Are you the type of person who wishes they read more? Do you have an uncontrollable gossipy urge to know what your subway neighbor is reading? Do you just like going really really fast? Us too!
Welcome to Speed Reader, a rogue missive from your bookish friends at Omoi. Every month we'll feature a book from the shop that we read, enjoyed, and want you to read and enjoy. Part book club, part recommendation algorithm, except we're not stealing your data and there's no awkward small talk over bad boxed wine. This is a strictly BYOB review. Vroom vroom!
Our pick this month is the dazzling Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin.
Let's Dig In
Winter in Sokcho follows a young, unnamed biracial Korean woman living and working in a small hotel in Sokcho, a South Korean beach town approximately 60 km from the North Korean border. When a mysterious middle-aged Frenchman named Yan Kerrand arrives during the off-season, they form an uneasy relationship.
Kerrand turns out to be a renowned graphic novelist looking for inspiration for his new book. He asks her to show her around the "authentic" Korea and she takes him to the fish market where her mother works, the gaudy neon lights in the town, and even a surreal museum in the DMZ. But is he really interested in the real Sokcho she knows? Or is he just looking for a muse?
This quiet novel unfolds in brief vignette-like chapters that are often less than three pages long. As the story progresses, the chapters get shorter and shorter, until we reach an unsettling conclusion. The whole thing feels like watching a meticulously edited short film, the kind with tiny budgets and lots of close-ups.
The town itself is empty save for locals and a handful of tourists who, like Kerrand, visit for their own mysterious reasons. Because nothing much happens, our characters are left watching each other, observing their daily routines and eating habits. Everybody seems to be waiting for something to happen. Sokcho's nearness to the DMZ underscores this quiet tension: when your nearest neighbor is an unpredictable nuclear power, you're born vigilant.
In life and The Bachelor alike, first impressions are crucial. Here's what caught our attention while reading Winter in Sokcho:
- The postcard-style cover, designed by Luke Bird, quite literally made us turn our heads. It might be silly to judge a book by its cover at my age, but considering the current state of the world, I'll take my serotonin where I can find it thank you very much.
- Clocking in at just 154 pages, this is a book you can finish in one weekend. A slow start with a dizzyingly quick end—my kind of story!
- The heart of this story is in the details, from the gauzy clouds that stretch over the town's border to the poisonous fish our protagonist's mom fillets for her customers. Poetic or horrifying? You be the judge!
Winter in Sokcho is best experienced outdoors on a crisp sunny day, maybe with a juice box and some atmospheric tunes. Treat yourself to a little Swiss chocolate when you finish—Dusapin, the author, is Swiss-French Korean.
What to Read Next
Finished already? Here are three things we recommend picking up next:
- A similar feeling of suspense threads through Frances Cha's If I Had Your Face. Set in Seoul, the story follows four young women as they navigate the pressures and expectations of millennial life in the contemporary. Plastic surgery, K-pop mania, and Instagram capitalism play the supporting roles.
- For a similarly sparse but engrossing story about an unnamed independent woman, pick up Jhumpa Lahiri's Whereabouts. Set in a place called simply "the city" the vignette-like chapters follow a year in her life's journey. A perfect coffee shop read.
- Did somebody say reclusive middle aged men looking for muses in sleepy seaside resorts that get their comeuppance? Look no further than the excellent Phantom Thread, starring a luminous Vicky Krieps and a career best Daniel Day Lewis.
That's all folks! Your bookish friends at Omoi thank for speed reading along. Butterfly in the sky, you can go twice as high. Be sure to let us know what you've been reading lately, and remember—Jeff Bezos can't read!