Author: Kim Joo Young (Inrae You Vinciguerra and Louis Vincinguerra are translators)
ISBN: 978 1 56478 959 4
Publisher: Dalkey Archive
Type of book: 1950s, small farming village, missing father, South Korea, travel, abandonment, survival, rumors, seasons, memories, creations, secrets, growing up, coming of age, moving on
Year it was published: 2013 (original 1998)
Hailed by critics, "Stingray" has been described by its author as "a critical biography of my loving mother." With his father having abandoned his family for another woman, Se-young and his mother are forced to subsist on their own in the harsh environment of a small Korean farming village in the 1950s. Determined to wait for her husband's return, Se-young's mother hangs a dried stingray on the kitchen doorjamb; to her, it's a reminder of the fact that she still has a husband, and that she must behave as a married woman would, despite all. Also, she claims, when the family is reunited, the fish will be their first, celebratory meal together. But when a beggar girl, Sam-rae, sneaks into their house during a blizzard, the first thing she does is eat the stingray, and what follows is a struggle, at once sentimental and ideological, for the soul of the household.
Main characters include Se-Young, a boy on the cusp of becoming a man who is struggling with trying to make his mother happy and also who wants things for himself that may conflict with his mother's interests. He is best described as lonely and someone who desires friends and companionship from other people. He also attempts to become a little rebellious throughout the story. The other character is Se-Young's mother, a woman who is frozen by one moment and who is also complex. Due to her situation she tries what she can to be very isolated from everyone in the village to prevent gossip from spreading, and I really feel as if I couldn't really understand her motives or desires. There is also Sam-Rae, a young woman who lives with Se-Young and his mother, and for whom Se-Young develops feelings for. Sam-Rae is rebellious and a bit of a troublemaker although I think she wants for Se-Young and his mother to think of her as a good person.
Until something goes right, one is frozen forever
The story is in the first person from Se-Young's point of view and it focused more on the turmoil and loneliness rather than the outside factors of life in a small village. That is, there is some mention, but the book didn't focus on the community and instead the reader seemed to be isolated along with Se-Young and his mother, awaiting for the father to come back and make things right. The summary is correct, but it only corresponds to maybe the first chapter rather than all three concurring chapters.
(From the book)
Kim Joo-Young was born in 1939, and graduated from the Sorabol Art College, majoring in creative writing. He made his literary debut with Resting Stage, which won the 1971 New Writer's Award. A leading and popular exponent of "documentary" fiction, set in meticulously researched historical periods, Kim has also served as the director of the Paradise Culture Foundation in Seoul since 2005.
Inrae You Vinciguerra has, along with her husband, Louis Vinciguerra, translated four Korean novels into English.
While I enjoyed the story a great deal, I'm not really sure what to make out of it, although tragic would be a word I would use to describe it. Basically, a young man by name of Se-Young, along with his mother, are awaiting for his father to come home. While they are waiting for the father to come home, numerous people dance in and out of their lives, much to the mother's dread. That is how I understand the story. While reading it as well, for some odd reason I had imagery of nature of Tale of Genji, especially when the narrator described the nature scenes and recounted the memories he had with his father. In beginning, perhaps due to similar circumstances the main characters found themselves in, I also wanted to compare this book to The House with a Sunken Courtyard, but it seems as if the similarities are more on the surface because in The House with a Sunken Courtyard the character of mother is far different than the mother in this novel.
This was given to me for an honest review by Dalkey Archive
4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)