Kim Hye-Jin’s “The Daughter”: Explosive and Important | – Culture

Status: 03.02.2022 06:00 a.m

In her novel “The Daughter”, the South Korean author Kim Hye-Jin tells what happens when the family involuntarily has to move in together again.

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by Juliane Bergman

Maybe it’s just a mistake, a misunderstanding, a nasty spook that will soon be over. Mother hopes so. She just can’t accept that her daughter Green loves women.

When I think of my daughter, I occasionally cling to that notion. Do I have to endure a punishment? Did something weird pass from me to my daughter?
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From her mother’s point of view, the mid-thirties Green is just about marriageable. She should find a husband and have a child. The mother feels that same-sex relationships are wrong and indecent. She claws at the thought that her child will eventually come to his senses. At a loveless, shared meal once a week, the topic is hushed up.

Homophobic beliefs that seem unshakable

This avoidance tactic no longer works when both worlds collide: the daughter can no longer afford her own apartment and moves back in with her mother – together with long-time friend Rain. The strictly conservative first-person narrator can only look at the lesbian couple with disgust at first.

I thought of my authority. My suitability as a mother, the shame and contempt that shake my very foundations. The space that remains for me to feel good is getting smaller and smaller. Like a sheet of paper that you fold in half over and over again.
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The homophobic convictions of the first-person narrator seem unshakable. The heat is oppressive this South Korean summer. The heads are buzzing. In this country where homosexuality is still taboo. Green teaches at the university and regularly takes to the streets to protest flimsy dismissals of homosexual colleagues.

Sympathy for both main characters

Kim Hye-Jin chooses an interesting narrative perspective: that of the hating mother. Although the events are told from her point of view, the reader clearly sympathizes with the other two female characters. However, looking inside the mother explains where all this disgust might come from, how frustrated she is in her own life.

Widowed after a pragmatic marriage, she works as a nurse in a retirement home and fights in vain for dignified treatment in an overburdened, profit-oriented system. Savings are made on care products and diapers. The team fixes residents who are too lively to the bed. Visits rarely if ever.

Roman outlines the mistakes of a family

The mother wonders if one can avoid dying alone like this. Her daughter – she fears – runs the risk of ending up just as lonely with her supposedly insecure love life. Green himself sees it differently:

“Mom, Rain is my family.”
“Husband, wife and child? You can’t be any of those for each other. Can you get married? Can you have children of your own? It’s like playing family with your dolls. You’re in your thirties and you’re still playing family!”
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Hardened fronts, false expectations, unhealthy communication – the novel vividly outlines what often goes wrong in families. The tense coexistence of the three women under one roof, which – fortunately – is gradually moving is almost unbearable.

Briefly and somewhat dryly told

The tone of this book is clear and cool. A touch more feeling would have done the text good, especially in the dramatic moments. For example when Green is almost beaten to death at a demo. The language remains wooden. This is an important, tentative turning point: the mother begins to worry about her own daughter. The realization does not come abruptly and Hollywood-like, but germinates quietly. This restraint is also one of the strengths of this novel. There’s something real about that.

Deep down there’s still that part of me that doesn’t want to understand anything. But there is also a part that wants to understand everything and a part that carefully observes from a distance.
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Despite the resistance at work, on the street, in their own four walls, these women fight for a self-determined life. A book that brings its characters into conversation with each other and that makes us think about the challenges of different generations of women. Briefly and somewhat dryly told, but the content is explosive and important.

additional Information

A woman and two men look at the selection of books on shelves full of books and on stacks - picture at the Frankfurt Book Fair © imago/Rupert Oberhäuser Photo: Rupert Oberhäuser

Lots of exciting books coming out this year. For example by Karl Ove Knausgård, Yasmina Reza, Orhan Pamuk and Fatma Aydemir. more

The daughter

by Kim Hye-Jin, translated by Ki-Hyang Lee

Page number:
176 pages
Hanser Berlin
Release date:
January 24, 2022
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NDR Culture | New Books | 03.02.2022 | 12:40 p.m

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