The hero of Kim Kyung Hyun’s novel, “In Search of Lost G,” is a bewildered Korean American named Kyung Hoon who wants to restore his original name, a symbol of his original identity that he has lost since his arrival in America as an immigrant. On his first day at school in the States, Kyung was instructed to write his name on the board to introduce himself to his classmates. Unfortunately, however, he was so nervous that he was not able to finish writing down his full name before the class ended; he got only as far as Kyun before the bell rang, unable to add “g” at the end. That was why he was called Kyun, not Kyung, at school. In a new environment called America, Kyung lost his name and identity.
Presumably an autobiographical novel, “In Search of Lost G” unfolds a compelling story of a frustrated young immigrant who has to cope with an unfamiliar, if not hostile, environment. Like the author himself, Kyung is a university professor in California. One day, he receives a long-distance call from his cousin Young-mi who lives in Seoul. She tells him that her son Gi-hoon, also known as G, who is attending a high school in the States, is missing and she wants him to help her find G. Thus Kyung flies back to the East Coast to join Young-mi in her search for her missing son G.
Arriving at G’s school, Kyung learns that G impregnated Paige and fled with her after he had been suspended from school for beating up two of his American classmates while arguing with them on Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” Kyung and Young-mi meet Thomas, Paige’s grandpa, and they set out on a cross-country journey searching for G and Paige. While searching for his missing nephew G, Kyung realizes that he is, in fact, searching for his own lost name and identity symbolized by the letter “G.”
“In Search of Lost G,” refers to two letters, A and G. In Hawthorn’s novel, “The Scarlet Letter,” the letter “A” primarily means “Adulteress.” and yet, it may also stand for “America.” Likewise, if we take the liberty of stretching the meaning of “G,” we can say that “G” may stand for Goryeo, from which the name, Korea, is derived. If so, Kyung is ultimately searching for not only his Korean identity but also his American identity as well.
In Kim’s novel, there is another Korean who has lost “G.” Aryn deliberately drops “g” from her name, Aryung,” in order to make Americans pronounce her name more easily. She comes to America to pursue her studies, but regrettably she is degenerated into a junkie and then a prostitute to make money for purchasing drugs.
“In Search of Lost G” is a remarkable accomplishment in Post-Diaspora literature and transnationalism. In the past, immigrants were supposed to be loyal only to their host country and sever ties with their home country. Therefore, assimilation as well as acculturation has always been an immediate and primary concern of Diaspora literature. However, the new literary movement of transnationalism allows immigrants to be loyal both to the home country and the host country. Thus, “In Search of Lost G” provides a happy ending: Paige will not abort her biracial baby and will settle down with G in LA, a city of immigrants searching for the fresh, untainted American Dream that Gatsby dreamed of in The Great Gatsby. Kyung, who has now restored his lost “g,” will take care of them by providing them with shelter.
While reading this gripping novel that depicts the predicament of immigrants in the States, I came to realize that we Koreans, too, have lost so many precious things while living in the hostile, turbulent society of Korea. In order to survive in times of crisis, we have given up so many good qualities beginning with “G” such as “greatness” and “goodness.” We have also lost so many valuable virtues starting with “D” as well, such as “decency” and “decorum.”
Indeed, when there is a power shift, some people betray their belief systems, change sides, and busily wag their tails to flatter those who have power now. Oftentimes, we hopelessly watch people turn their backs on those who they think are no longer in power. Perhaps to protect themselves, others suddenly pose as a victim as if they were mistreated by the previous regime. And there are those who enjoy wielding their newly-gained power sadistically. Those people do not seem to realize that by doing so they are losing “decency” and “decorum.”
These days, young Koreans, too, seem to have lost their “dreams” and “desires.” If our young people give up hope and ambition, the future of our country will be grim and bleak. It is disheartening to watch our young men and women lose precious virtues symbolized by G and D. We should search for and recover the lost “G” and “D.”
By Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and president of the Literature Translation Institute of Korea. He can be reached at email@example.com. -- Ed.