[Web Exclusive] Interview with Kim Hye-jin
- onJuly 6, 2021
- Vol.52 Summer 2021
- byKorean Literature Now
What inspired you to write Concerning My Daughter?
I wrote Concerning My Daughter in the summer of 2017. Back then, I worked in several cafes around Seoul City Hall—close to where I lived. That’s when I came across a lot of queer issues. I went to the Seoul Queer Parade, where I had a chance to visit PFLAG Korea’s stand, and read their leaflets. Later that year, I watched a number of documentaries at the Seoul International Women’s Film Festival, including Political Animals, Southwest of Salem and Troublers (directed by Lee Young), and those films must’ve had an impact on me.
To be honest, I’m not too sure what first prompts me to write a new story, or why I start working on it. So, every time someone asks me that question, I think back on what initially motivated me to write the story, revisit to the past, and give meaning to it. For this novel, I started with a vague idea of writing a mother-daughter story.
Why did you choose to depict the daughter’s relationship with her girlfriend from the third-person perspective?
The daughter in the novel is a queer person, but I did not want to tell the story from her perspective. I ruled out that option from the start. Of course, the daughter’s queer identity is an important part of the novel, but my aim was to make the story a little more universal. That’s why I decided to observe the daughter’s life from her mother’s perspective. As I myself have experienced, although mothers and daughters are very close, they can be strangers to each other. Precisely because they are close, they often lock horns and have difficulty understanding each other. I wanted to explore such aspects of mother-daughter relationships.
The mother in the novel tries to understand her daughter whose choices make little sense to her. It’s not simply a matter of understanding someone with your head. As the two women live together, they come into conflict and gradually learn to accept each other. I don’t think they achieve complete understanding though. Nevertheless, by the end of the novel, they’ve become a little closer than they were in the beginning.
The novel can be seen as the story of a mother in her 60s coming to terms with her daughter in her 30s. In a wider context, my intention was to reflect the lengths I’d go—as a 30-something writer—to understand my mother’s generation.
What does it mean to understand others?
Is it possible to understand others? I’m inclined to think that it’s impossible. As far as I’m concerned, it’s difficult for people to even reconcile with themselves. In many instances, you can’t even understand yourself. So, how can you understand others? I often think to myself that it’s an impossible task. Perhaps we can gain a bit more understanding by recognizing that we can’t understand one another. When you realize that someone is a completely different person from you, and that there are certain aspects you can never accept, you’ll be able to tolerate them further.
Towards the end of the novel, the mother wonders, ‘Will I ever be able to understand those kids? Will such a miracle ever happen?’ Even as she asks herself that, she feels deeply conflicted. She finds it comprehensible and incomprehensible at the same time. She both seeks and shuns understanding. To me, the word ‘understanding’ implies that kind of confusion and conflict.
How do you find story ideas?
Let me give you an example. Even if you make plans before travelling to faraway places, things don’t always go as planned. And that’s a matter of course. Failed plans may cause inconvenience, but sometime they bring unexpected joy. You might have unforeseen encounters and new experiences, which is similar to the way I find story ideas.
Since I’m always on the lookout for new ideas, I’m under a certain amount of pressure. But whether I can find something whenever I wish is a different matter. So, I mainly get story ideas from my own life—people and events that I come across in daily life. Of course, great books and films have a good impact on me, too. But I usually turn to things closer to my everyday life for inspiration.
If necessary, I carry out research sometimes. However, even when I interview someone, information is not what I’m after. I’m more influenced by unexpected revelations, or what I deduce from their unspoken words. My search for story ideas very much depends on coincidences.
How do you feel about sharing your work with international readers?
Concerning My Daughter has already been published in Japan, Taiwan and Czech Republic. I’ve got my copies of the overseas editions, and it feels strange to see the different book covers and languages. It even makes me wonder if they’re really my own work. The novel is due to be published in the UK, Germany and France next year. I’m curious to see how readers from different cultural backgrounds will respond to it. I’ve not had a chance to interact directly with overseas readers yet. It’ll be great to have such an opportunity.
What are your thoughts on today’s Korean literature?
I began to dream of becoming a writer as a reader of Korean literature. Inevitably, literary works written in my mother tongue constitute a big world—and indeed a significant one at that. While international works are quickly translated into multiple foreign languages, it takes longer for Korean literary works to reach out to readers worldwide. I hope to see more and more Korean works introduced overseas, which I think is likely to happen soon.