Synopses & Reviews
"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. (June) " Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
1. Which two characters do you feel share the strongest bond with one another? Are there any two that have an especially powerful connection, and if so, what makes their connection more compelling?
2. Do you think that this book has an optimistic or a pessimistic view of friendship and first loves?
3. What role does memory play in I’ll Be Right There? What might Shin be looking to say about our relationship to it?
4. What role does Professor Yoon play in everyone’s lives, and why is his death so significant? What does he “teach” Jung, Myungush, and Miru? Have you experienced a similar connection to a professor?
5. The characters in I’ll Be Right There are continually confronted by the impermanence of life and the pain of losing what is closest to them. What effect might this have on them both personally and politically?
6. What are Shin’s strengths and weaknesses as a writer? Do you prefer her narrative construction, her characters, her prose style, or some other aspect of her writing? Is she comparable to any other writers stylistically?
7. When Yoon observes Dahn’s equal fascination and fear of spiders, she wonders if love and fear share the same root. Are there other instances in the book when someone both loves and fears something?
8. The book contains many allusions to other writers, including Emily Dickinson. What do you think this book is trying to say about the use of art and literature in the face of politics and violence, and the power of literature as a link between people?
9. At one point, Myungush wonders “What would have happened to us if it weren’t for Yoon?” Why does Yoon becomes so integral to the relationship between Miru and Myungush?
10. Why doesn’t Yoon speak to Myungsuh about Dahn’s death? What are other instances in this book when someone keeps a secret, and why do you think they do so?
11. What does this novel teach us about the ways in which we can better cope with loss and grief in our own lives?
Reading Group Guide
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.