LEMON by award-winning Korean author Kwon Yeo-sun (Other Press Hardcover; On-Sale: 10/12/2021; ISBN: 978163542-088-3) deftly explores grief and trauma, class and privilege, and I have such faith in the power of Yeo-sun’s boundary-pushing insight and writing. This novella was originally published as a short story in 2016 for the 50th anniversary issue of Changjak and Bipyeong under the title “You Do Not Know,” which was also adapted into a play of the same title. It was later revised and expanded to become LEMON. Sure to resonate with readers of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and Human Acts and those who loved Bong Joon-Ho’s Oscar-winning film ‘Parasite’; this piercing psychological portrait that takes the shape of a crime novel, follows a woman haunted by her sister’s unsolved murder and the transformation she undergoes in order to cope with the pain of absence and unknowing.
In the summer of the 2002, when Korea is abuzz with the Korea-Japan FIFA World Cup, a beautiful nineteen-year-old girl named Hae-on is murdered in what would become known as the ‘High School Beauty Murder’. There are two suspects: a rich boy Shin Jeongjun, whose car Hae-on was last seen in, and a working class delivery boy, Han Manu, who witnesses Hae-on in the passenger seat of Jeongjun’s car just a few hours before her death. The novel begins with a scene in which Hae-on’s younger sister, Da-on, imagines a police detective interrogating Han Manu. When no evidence can be pinned on Manu and Jeongjun’s alibi turns out to be solid, the identity of the murderer is left unsolved. The case remains a mystery for years, throwing those surrounding the event into turmoil, especially Da-on, who is unable to move on with her life following her sister’s disappearance and murder. In the course of the next seventeen years Da-on, undergoes plastic surgery to appear more like her sister and grants her own daughter a name similar to her sister’s, ultimately setting out to discover the truth of what happened, all in hopes that she will recover some of what she has lost.
LEMON is told at different points in time from three different alternating female perspectives: Da-on, Hae-on’s younger sister; Tae-rim, Hae-on’s classmate who harbored a jealousy of her; and Sanghui, another classmate of Hae-on’s, also connected to Da-on. An intoxicating novel addressing issues of class and womanhood, LEMON loosely follows the structure of a detective novel. But finding the perpetrator is not the main objective here. Instead, LEMON deconstructs the relationship between the super-rich and the children of the working class who live side by side in the early 21 century, femininity, through three distinct points of view, and raises important questions about guilt, retribution, and the meaning of death and life.
Kwon Yeo-sun was born in Andong, South Korea, and now lives in Seoul. In 1996 she received the Sangsang Literary Award for her debut novel, Niche of Green. Her subsequent novels and short stories have received numerous literary awards, including the Hankook Ilbo Literary Award, Yi Sang Literary Prize, and the Oh Yeong-su Literature Award, among others. Lemon is her first novel to be published in English. Janet Hong is a writer and translator based in Vancouver, Canada. She received the 2018 TA First Translation Prize and the 16th LTI Korea Translation Award for her translation of Han Yujoo’s The Impossible Fairy Tale, which was also a finalist for both the 2018 PEN Translation Prize and the 2018 National Translation Award. Her recent translations include Ha Seong-nan’s Bluebeard’s First Wife, Ancco’s Nineteen, and Keum Suk Gendry-Kim’s Grass.