BY KYUNG-SOOK SHIN
'Violets' by Kyung-Sook Shin is a beautiful and sad story about a young girl who, trapped by loneliness, heads to the city in search of love and friendship. A poignant and soul-searching read.
Set in South Korea, it tells the story of San, who abandoned first by her father and later by her mother, leaves her village following an emotional incident with her best friend. San moves to Seoul in search of a new start in life and begins work in a flower shop. Here she learns the art of taking care of plants and flowers and finds a new friend, Su-ae who by contrast is vibrant, fearless and full of life. San comes out of her shell and seems to be enjoying a new life.
Yet all this changes when a young male photographer arrives at the shop to photograph violets for a magazine. He captures San’s loneliness in a beautiful picture. Several months later they are unexpectedly reunited in a café and a brief special moment passes between them. San becomes obsessed by this moment and an overwhelming desire to be loved by him. She becomes totally lost in the moment and begins to stalk him before inevitably discovering her feelings do not match his. Consequently, San spirals with dangerous consequences. The final scenes of the book are dramatic and poignant.
As the author writes in her afterword, Violets are very small plants which are often overlooked as weeds. San is continually overlooked. The story stays with you - surely a sign that the author achieved her aim of making us listen to the voices of those women silenced and discriminated against. The author also references music from ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ and translates the lines - “I want to hide my pain from the flowers. I don’t want to tell them of life’s suffering. Because if they know my sadness, the flowers will cry too.“
A remarkable, heart-rending read.