Winter in Sokcho tells the story of a French-Korean woman, in her twenties. She works in a guesthouse in Sokcho; a seaside town on the border between South and North Korea. It’s out of season and there are only a few guests.
The unnamed narrator leads an ordinary life. She returned to Sokcho after completing university. Now, her routine is repetitive, cooking and cleaning for the guests. This is until the arrival of a French graphic novelist at the guesthouse, Yan Kerrand. She becomes interested in him and what follows is an unusual and distant yet intense relationship. Kerrand won’t eat her meals and often hides away in his room. As the story continues, the narrator becomes more and more intrigued by his drawings and his work.
The novella explores a range of themes including identity and relationships. Elisa Shua Dusapin also weaves in other complex themes. One of the most powerful parts of the story, is when she visits Naksan Temple. The narrator points out the ‘bunkers at regular intervals’ with ‘sub-machine guns protruding from openings’. Kerrand begins talking about the beaches in France including those in Normandy, and the scars from World War II.
The narrator describes the impact of war on Korea, ‘I’m sure there are scars on your beaches, but that’s all in the past. Our beaches are still waiting for the end of a war that’s been going on for so long people have stopped believing it’s real. They build hotels, put up neon signs, but it’s all fake, we’re on a knife-edge, it could all give way any moment. We’re living in limbo. In a winter that never ends.’
This novella builds and builds, becoming atmospheric and tense. I would recommend this quick read which I’m sure I’ll be thinking about for some time.