I’ll Go On

Hwang Jungeun Emily Yae Won (Trans­la­tor) Tilted Axis Press (OC­TO­BER) Soft­cover $12 (208pp) 978-1-911284-20-8

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews | Adult Fiction / Nonfiction - RE­BECCA HUSSEY

Hwang Jungeun’s I’ll Go On brings to vi­brant life one of the most vex­ing hu­man dilem­mas: how does a per­son go on af­ter dev­as­tat­ing loss?

Sis­ters Sora and Nana are haunted by their fa­ther’s grue­some death and their mother’s re­sult­ing ne­glect. Ro­tat­ing among first-per­son nar­ra­tors, the novel be­gins with Sora as an adult learn­ing that Nana is preg­nant. As she reels from the news, she looks back at their un­set­tled child­hood, spent in a gloomy base­ment with Naghi, who grows up to be their clos­est friend, and his mother, who kept them fed when their own mother, Aeja, was deep in mourn­ing and de­pres­sion.

The novel’s strength lies in char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment. The few plot events that oc­cur are made more mean­ing­ful be­cause Sora, Nana, and Naghi are fully re­al­ized. Aeja is a pow­er­ful pres­ence. Even char­ac­ters of lesser im­por­tance, in­clud­ing Sora’s work col­leagues and Nana’s boyfriend, are mem­o­rably sketched and lively.

The novel’s mood is dark, but the sub­tlety with which Jungeun ex­plores themes of loss and the some­times de­bil­i­tat­ing power of fam­ily his­tory of­fers a coun­ter­bal­ance. The nar­ra­tion is bro­ken up into short sec­tions, each one a glimpse into a char­ac­ter’s men­tal state or a telling anec­dote from the past, all of which form an evoca­tive pic­ture.

Among the nar­ra­tors, Sora’s voice is the strong­est. She cap­tures Aeja’s de­spair and its lin­ger­ing af­ter­math most pow­er­fully. Later sec­tions pro­vide the plea­sure of see­ing how other char­ac­ters per­ceive the same events in a markedly dif­fer­ent man­ner, though Nana’s nar­ra­tion jar­ringly shifts into the third per­son.

I’ll Go On is a pow­er­ful and chal­leng­ing lit­er­ary novel.

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