Six Degrees of Separation: Whoever You Are, However Lonely You Are by Kim Yeonsu

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.1 Autumn 2008
  • byJung Yeo-ul
Whoever You Are, However Lonely You Are

When intellectual sparring leads to a dead end, two university co-eds discover their connection through personal stories. What begins as a simple storytelling game leads to romance and the realization that what moves an individual touches the entire nation.

In the 1980s, Korean novelists turned out stories about political struggle and oppression. At the time, typical subject matter involved people fighting off a dark reality and trying to overcome obstacles. Pent-up human desire, however, flooded the literary scene in the 1990s, like a latent volcano suddenly spewing its fiery energy. In the 21st century, something new is looming large. There is no shortage of information; however, people find fewer and fewer stories portraying humans in an insightful way. The unfortunate downside or side effect of modernity is that even the value of fiction is judged by money. Welcome to the world where everything, even novels, are deemed a mere commodity. Kim Yeon-su, however, bucks the trend. He fights to explore what a novel is and what a novel can mean to people at a time when not only individual, but also collective storytelling is fading away. The result of Kim’s impassioned efforts is Whoever You Are, However Lonely You Are.

In the novel, Jeong-min and the first person narrator feel drawn toward each other while engaging in the prodemocracy movement at college.

They notice that ‘storytelling’ is the most effective alternative to real romance. At first, they exchange their views on popular topics such as philosophy, literature, and politics. When they run out of topics, they have nothing else to talk about – except for their own personal stories. Through a simple storytelling game, they come to realize that their personal stories involve an intricate network of people, starting with family members, and much more. By sharing their most intimate stories about their family members, they build up their relationship.

The novel starts off with a description of a nude photo and then expands its scope to the history of a single group, a nation, and then the entire world. It is not about historical movers and shakers; it is about a secret history hidden behind the seemingly expressionless façade of individuals, woven into a literary web of surprises and insights.

No matter how hard people try to stay away from history, people eventually face the history of the time, just like how love defies endless rejections and eventually makes it to the final destination. The novel itself proves that even a modest personal story can turn into a beautiful novel. Simultaneously, the novel demonstrates that individuals cannot live alone, and their fate is an essential part of a broader history. The novel also reveals a secret glue that cleaves together the narrator and others in the web of history: love. Without such truthful encounters, life will be nothing more than a depressing wasteland. Perhaps that is why people continue to seek such encounters through a personal journey, which is endlessly ‘novel.’ 

Author's Profile

Kim Yeonsu is a novelist. Kim debuted in 1993 by publishing a poem in Writer’s World. He published the novels Walking While Pointing to the MaskGoodbye Mr. Yi Sang, Route 7The Night Is Singing, and Wonderboy and the short story collections I Am a Ghost WriterTwenty, and World's End Girlfriend. Kim has received a number of literary awards, including the Daesan Literary Award and Yi Sang Literary Award.