[Book review] Love and conflict across the boundaries of culture

Posted on : 2022-05-15 09:32 KST Modified on : 2022-05-15 09:32 KST
Author of “Korean Teachers” Seo Su-jin explores the romance – and conflict – of a relationship between a Korean woman and an Australian man in her latest novella
Cover of “Yujin and Dave”
Cover of “Yujin and Dave”

“Yu-jin and Dave”
By Seo Su-jin, Hyundae Munhak

As a follow-up to her 2020 book “Korean Teachers,” which won her the 25th Hankyoreh Literary Award, author Seo Su-jin has released the novella “Yu-jin and Dave.” The story tells of the conflicted romance between a Korean woman named Yu-jin and an Australian man named Dave.

These days, there are more opportunities than ever to experience life overseas through travel, study, and business, but it is still seen as rare for people of different nationalities and ethnicities to fall in love and share their lives with one another. That adds an element of scarcity value to the novella, which the author — who is married to an Australian man herself — based on her own direct and indirect experiences.

That doesn’t mean the work should necessarily be viewed as autobiographical. It is, in the end, a work of fiction.

What stands out the most in the work is the succession of major and minor clashes that erupt between Yu-jin and Dave’s different cultural backgrounds. The two of them are deeply in love, but they argue often, most of the time due to cultural differences.

These include Dave tasting his bibimbap ingredients one at a time to capture their individual flavor, rather than mixing them all together like Yu-jin; Yu-jin becoming exasperated with Dave putting dishes on the rack with soap bubbles still on them; Yu-jin staying out late drinking with friends, only to have Dave rebuff her call for him to pick her up; or Yu-jin resenting Dave’s refusal to eat the spicy raw crab that her mother offers him.

Despite his financial comfort, David doesn’t stop Yu-jin from cleaning bar restrooms to pay her share of the rent. Despite his disapproval of the institution of marriage, he decides to provide his sperm to his gay sister’s partner.

Author Seo Su-jin
Author Seo Su-jin

David’s family members make a point of not forgetting the history of massacres by white people against indigenous Australians, and they never say or do anything to discriminate against or exclude Yu-jin. Even so, she feels as though there is a “very thick and clear line drawn” between her and these well-meaning, sensible white people.

As her tensions with Dave escalate, Yu-jin uses the threat of leaving him as a weapon — only for him to compound her fury by tearfully accepting her decision. “I don’t want to break up, but I respect your choice to break up with me,” he tells her.

Toward the end of the novella, she says goodbye to him once again. “This time I mean it,” she insists, but the conclusion remains open-ended.

The relationship between Yu-jin and Dave can’t be explained solely in terms of cultural differences. Instead, it should be seen as a universal story about two different people overcoming their differences and growing to understand each other over the process of their romance and marriage.

By Choi Jae-bong, literature correspondent

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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