Winter in Sokcho: Enigmatic examination of a woman in stasis

Review: Élisa Shua Dusapin’s beguiling debut charts interior and exterior landscapes in South Korea

Élisa Shua Dusapin is a stylish French writer interested in the emotional life of her characters.

Élisa Shua Dusapin is a stylish French writer interested in the emotional life of her characters.

“Our beaches are still waiting for the end of a war that’s been going on for so long people have stopped believing it’s real.” In Sokcho, a tourist town on the border between South and North Korea, people are used to waiting. They wait for the end of a decades-long conflict between north and south. They wait for the winter to pass and the snow to be over. They wait for the tourists to return, to bring some money to a region that is mired in poverty and neglect.

The unnamed narrator of this engrossing debut novel is also waiting – for change, for something to happen, for her adult life to begin. Finished university, she has returned to her hometown to work in a guest house and be near her mother. Her boyfriend Jun-Oh visits occasionally but is more concerned with establishing a modelling career in Seoul. The narrator’s days all have similar shape: she cleans, changes bed linen, cooks for the guests, eats her mother’s food. But when a stranger comes to town, in the form of Kerrand, a French writer and artist, the narrator sees her life and town through his eyes and soon becomes restless for change.

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