- I Hear Your Voice
Tr. Krys Lee 2017272pp.
Kim Young-ha’s I Hear Your Voice is a haunting, visceral portrait of friendship, belief, and betrayal. The book opens with the tale of a magician able to restore life to a boy whose body has been violently rent apart. Are we witnessing magic or a con man’s sleight of hand? This question is at the heart of the novel, which traces the rise and fall of the mythical and charismatic figure of Jae, as told by his close friend and fellow outcast, Donggyu.
Born in the bathroom of a bus terminal filled with both believers and those who manipulate belief—“hoarse-throated religious fanatics,” “a cult leader,” “the fake monk who begged while tapping at a wooden gong”—Jae is saved from sure death by Mama Pig, only to be deserted by her in adolescence, shipped off to an orphanage where punishments include solitary confinement, and then funneled into the communities of youth living in Seoul’s underworld, impoverished and ignored, where the violence and cruelty they are fleeing often gets reenacted.
Though Jae’s journey is dominated by alienation and abandonment, he has a miraculous gift for empathy. When, at age three, Donggyu becomes mute, it is only Jae who understands “the words slowed up inside me that wouldn’t rush past my lips, that stayed petrified like stalactites.” The intensity and complexity of the boys’ friendship is conveyed in Jae’s role as interpreter: Is he the translator of his friend’s desires or their architect? Is he Donggyu’s shadow or vice versa?
In adolescence, Jae develops the ability to intuit and absorb the pain of all those around him: