Bookish Bitchin: Once the Shore

OK, I completely fell behind on my goal to do a Bookish Bitchin review every other month, but I have a legitimate excuse in that there’s been a buttload of awful good cat videos on Youtube….and I recently discovered a Jim Hanley’s Universe comics store 3 blocks from where I work….So whaddya want?

Aaaanyway — I finally finished Paul Yoon’s Once the Shore. Not that it took me so damn long because it was a boring or tedious read, but because I am lazy and see above. Actually, Once the Shore is a luminous, beautiful novel, and its hard to believe it’s Yoon’s first.

The book is a collection of eight compelling stories spanning over half a century on the South Korean Island of Solla — from right before the Korean War up to the present. The short stories range from an aging “sea woman” who is one of the few remaining traditional divers, to an elderly couple searching for their missing son amidst bomb wreckage in the Pacific Ocean.

Yoon gracefully conveys the ways in which Solla residents are impacted by the legacy of Japanese occupation without being overtly or heavy-handedly political, and keeps focus on their personal lives and complex emotional and physical connections to their island environment.

Yoon’s prose is clear, elegant, poetic…simply gorgeous. He is a master of language — I actually think the reason it took me so long to finish is because it’s rather intimate and haunting. I had to take breathers, savor the richness of each story, and let them sink in. Yoon’s ability to express relationships and unspoken dynamics between characters without being overly dramatic, finely illustrate their interior worlds, and simply yet cinematically communicate the landscape of the island — is breathtaking. Highly recommended.

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