Award-winning author visits Forest Hills
by Michael Perlman
Oct 06, 2015 | 6113 views | 0 0 comments | 121 121 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Seated is community outreach manager John Dessereau and author Kyung-sook Shin with mentor Celina Lee standing.
Seated is community outreach manager John Dessereau and author Kyung-sook Shin with mentor Celina Lee standing.
One of South Korea’s most acclaimed novelists, Kyung-sook Shin, was the subject of a book talk, signing and question-and-answer session at Barnes & Noble in Forest Hills on September 29.

Speaking in her native Korean through interpreter Celina Lee, Shin offered insight into her book “A Girl Who Wrote Loneliness,” which was translated to English in 2015 twenty years after its Korean publication.

Shin was the first woman to win the Man Asian Literary Prize for her 2011 work “Please Look After Mom,” her first to be published in English and the one that made her a New York Times bestselling author.

“A Girl Who Wrote Loneliness” begins with Shin writing in solitude. A friend tells her that a reader remarked, “You don’t write about us. You seem to write quite a lot about your childhood, and also about college, and about love.” So she begins to reflect on her teenage years.

At age 16, she is sent from her village to Seoul, where she lives in a room with her cousin and elder brother and works rigorously in an electronics factory, attending high school during the evening.

Shin is determined to persevere despite being surrounded by the harsh reality of 1978 Korea, which is comprised of political and economic instability.

“By writing the present in the past tense, I made it go down in the past, and by writing the past in the present tense, I made it come up to the present,” Shin said of the book's unique timeline.

According to Shin, time does not travel in a straight line but in a circle, where she attempts to make both tenses meet in the middle. “I don’t think they exist separately, but are mixed together,” she said.

Writing made Shin realize her repressed emotions, and said her teenage years were always buried deep in her mind.

“After I became a writer and while writing about the people that were with me in my teenage years, I understood the hurtful memories and what I was supposed to remember, love, and write about,” she said. “It was because of them that I realized I had become a strong person who loved and trusted people.”

While experiencing sadness and pain may halt some ambitions, it was what ultimately shaped Shin's dreams.

“Deep pain can make us become bigger and enrich our lives,” she said. “I want to become a person that in any circumstance moves a step forward from the present. Everybody has something that, while accepting their limitations, helps them overcome it, and for me that is writing. Reviving those who are forgotten by everyone and making them become immortal is my ambition.

“It would be more unfortunate if you’re unable to sympathize with people’s pain,” Shin continued. “Feeling sad is a part of life, but rising above it is a beautiful thing. If it wasn't for books, I wouldn't have been able to overcome my misfortunes.”

In years to come, Shin hopes that a reader of "A Girl Who Wrote Loneliness" will retain the messages of personal growth and that ultimately “people are beautiful.”

Shin is already at work on her next manuscript, which she refers to as an omnibus-style piece about four people. Despite varying reasons for why their love was at loss, they share a connection.

“People realize who they are when they lose something precious,” she said. “It will be a dark and lonely story. I am hoping that the lost love will help them dream about new love, but I will find out what kind of novel it will be after writing it.”

Shin also had advice for the young and aspiring writers in the audience.

“Don't keep thinking about it, but go to your desk and finish your work,” she said, emphasizing the benefit of reading other novels. “Those that are worth reading make you strong internally, and help you reflect about people and the world.”

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