The Korea Herald


[New in Korean] Year 2020 revisited under shadow of disconnection

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : Sept. 23, 2023 - 16:01

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"Face to Face" by Choi Eun-mi (Changbi Publishers)

"Face to Face" (a literal translation of the Korean title)

By Choi Eun-mi

Changbi Publishers

In the author's note for her second novel, "Face to Face," Choi Eun-mi writes, "I’ve developed a habit of thinking about someone’s 2020 when I see people passing by, to come up with a new character for my story. Where they went to sleep, where they worked, whom they were closest to, and what they feared the most in that year."

Choi takes readers back to the time when COVID-19 was spreading rapidly.

When people were confirmed to have the virus, their itineraries were traced and publicly announced. Fear of the unknown and disconnection gripped the country.

Na-ri, who runs a small craft workshop, befriends Su-mi, mother of her daughter’s friend. But Na-ri cannot understand Su-mi who controls her child excessively and tells her, “Daddy doesn’t love you.”

When Su-mi contracts the virus, Na-ri's workshop is labeled as infected, causing her to lose customers.

Struggling to keep her business afloat, Na-ri hyperventilates and is taken to a hospital, where she discovers that she had contracted tuberculosis at some point before.

She searches her memory to remember the lady who she used to take care of. Meanwhile, as COVID-19 continues to spread, Na-ri and Su-mi clash over their daughters.

Choi expands on the narrative from her short story "Here, We Are Face to Face" (2020), which depicts the suffering of women who had to shoulder the burden of child care during the pandemic.

She picks up from where Su-mi is diagnosed as having had TB and journeys into an unresolved conflict.