BRIANNA HIRAMI WRITING – So many people want to experience love – the butterflies that fill the stomach and make the chest tighten when they see that special someone. We’ve all seen movies and read books about true romance that make us sick to our hearts, either because of a fairytale ending or because of a tragic case torn apart by unfortunate circumstances. But what about love that doesn’t include picnic dates in the parks and long, romantic walks on the beach? Isn’t this love also something special? Maybe love is experienced in other ways that someone might not directly notice?
Love lets us experience absolute joy and indescribable happiness, but it can also turn around and break our hearts in the worst possible way. Choi Eunyoung sets out perfectly through his seven short stories in Shoko’s smile (2021), how love can take many forms. His short stories are full of raw emotions that quickly make the reader feel the effects of loss, growth and love.
Shoko’s smile is Eunyoung’s second play which has been translated into English. Shoko’s smile with his other novel, Someone who can’t hurt me, have sold more than 200,000 copies and are being translated into several languages. She has also received several awards including the Munhakdongne Young Writers Award. The translator of Shoko’s smile, Ryu sang grew up between South Korea, the United States and Canada. Ryu has translated other novels like Tower by Bae Myung-hoon and I’m waiting for you: and other stories by Kim Bo-Young.
In one of Eunyoung’s short stories titled “Xin, Chào, Xin Chào,” the reader sees the effortless friendship between Ms. Nguyên and the mother of the anonymous protagonist. Their beautiful friendship begins when their two children become friends at school and the Nguyên family invite the protagonist’s family to dinner. From there, everything is history. The two women become inseparable, and they begin to visit each other every day. Their bond strengthens quickly because they regularly dine with the Nguyên, and the two women give each other advice and small gifts.
The Nguyên family even helps to release the tension between the parents of the protagonist. Before meeting the family, her parents were constantly arguing and lacking passion for each other. However, at common family dinners, they are all able to laugh, sing karaoke, eat good food, and speak normally. Even as their marriage begins to heal, it’s easy to say that the protagonist’s mom feels more fulfilled with Ms. Nguyên than with her own husband. Instead of walking on eggshells, as she does with her husband, her mother can be herself around Ms. Nguyên. Their relationship proves how romantic a relationship isn’t everything. The love that two best friends can have for each other can be much more genuine and real than the love between a married couple. There might not be that lustful passion that romantic partners have with each other, but why shouldn’t this love be considered as important as that of a traditional couple?
Things take an unfortunate toll when the protagonist ignorantly declares how Korea has never invaded another country. Her friend corrects her by saying that the Korean soldiers are the ones who invaded her mother’s hometown and killed her entire family. Her mother quickly apologizes for her terrible loss and tries to comfort her dear friend. Ms. Nguyên dismisses the obviously uncomfortable subject but is deeply saddened by the memory of her deceased family. The protagonist’s husband only aggravates the situation by saying imperceptibly:
“I lost my brother too, you know. Isn’t this affair over long ago? Would you prefer that we apologize again and again for this? “
After the night began, the friendship between the mother of the unnamed narrator and Ms. Nguyên was never restored. Her mother visits Ms. Nguyên several times after, but the tense and awkward look in the room never goes away. Even as they try to make every visit “normal,” their once beautiful love for each other is shattered. They eventually stop visiting and her mother mourns the loss of her best friend. She stops eating, talks less, doesn’t sleep, and disengages from everyone else. Her heart is broken and she longs for her best friend, a feeling made palpable by the protagonist stating:
“How mom had to take care of the piece of heart that Mrs. Nguyên had given her. And when it broke through no fault of her own, how deep her despair must have been… Mom said she didn’t remember those days very well, but for a long time she must have regretted Mrs. Nguyên, who had loved her like her. . “
Not all grief comes from someone you’ve been dating. These may be the ones written and described most often in the music and film industries, but some of the worst sorrows are those that you sincerely thought you had no chance of ever leaving your life. Couples break up and divorce all the time, but you never imagine “breaking up” with your best friend.
Eunyoung’s emphasis on the importance of love throughout her novel inspires people to embrace those around them. From the most conventional form of developing romantic feelings to loving a close friend, it doesn’t matter in the end. Despite the hardships that life inevitably goes through, who you love is not as important as the love you feel for that person. Whether your heart belongs to your family, a friend, or a lover, distinctions are irrelevant. Love, without a doubt, follows where the heart leads. Eunyoung teaches us that life is unpredictable, it is necessary to enjoy moments with the people closest to you because you never know what sorrows can bring tomorrow.
New literary critic Brianna Hirami recently graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a major in English and a minor in Asian and Peaceful Studies. Brianna will continue to follow her passion in English and will attend LMU again to receive her MA in Literature. She wants to learn more about Asian culture by reading literature set in Korea and learning to speak Japanese.