How friendship, European literature, and a charismatic professor defy war, oppression, and the absurd
Set in 1980s South Korea amid the tremors of political revolution, I’ll Be Right There follows Jung Yoon, a highly literate, twenty-something woman, as she recounts her tragic personal history as well as those of her three intimate college friends. When Yoon receives a distressing phone call from her ex-boyfriend after eight years of separation, memories of a tumultuous youth begin to resurface, forcing her to re-live the most intense period of her life. With profound intellectual and emotional insight, she revisits the death of her beloved mother, the strong bond with her now-dying former college professor, the excitement of her first love, and the friendships forged out of a shared sense of isolation and grief.
Yoon’s formative experiences, which highlight both the fragility and force of personal connection in an era of absolute uncertainty, become immediately palpable. Shin makes the foreign and esoteric utterly familiar: her use of European literature as an interpreter of emotion and experience bridges any gaps between East and West. Love, friendship, and solitude are the same everywhere, as this book makes poignantly clear.
Tension and sadness are the prevailing emotions affecting the four major characters in this moving novel from Shin, author of the bestselling Please Look After Mom. Set in politically turbulent 1980s South Korea, the plot follows two young couples. They belong to a generation that is bitterly disillusioned and despairing of the future. The narrator, Jung Yoon, is mourning her mother's death when she leaves her rural home to attend college. She is feeling alienated when she meets Myungsuh and Miru, a couple drawn into the student protests against South Korea's military government. Mired in anomie, Jung is unable to return the love of her childhood friend, Dahn, an aspiring artist, who reaches out to her during his grueling experience as an army recruit. As a counterweight to this downbeat mood, Shin describes Jung's beloved Professor Yoon, who inspires his students, urging them not to "write a single sentence that abets violence." Shin can suggest profound implications in restrained detail, and though the story ends in tragedy, her frequent references to both Eastern and Western literature testify to the duty to hope and to survive.