I’m Waiting For You and Other Stories comprise of two pairs of stories from Korean science fiction writer Kim Bo-young, translated by Sophie Bowman and Sung Ryu. In the title story I’m Waiting for You (tr. Sophie Bowman), a man writes a series of letters to his fiancee, as both of them undertake their separate journeys in the galaxy, making use of the concept of relativity, to return to Earth at the same time to get married. His journey gets increasingly difficult as the delays in the galactic journey costed him years on Earth and he battles isolation and the losing hope of ever reuniting with his fiancee. On My Way to You (tr. Sophie Bowman), the last story, complements it perfecting with his fiancée’s own galactic journey. In contrast to his lonely journey, she is always travelling with others, but we learn that isolation in the midst of company is sometimes much harder to bear.
Family’s not a big deal, you know. When it comes to family, you can always make a new one. That’s why the world has this great thing called marriage. (…) I’ll become four times more your family than your first family was.On My Way to You
This is my personal favourite line in the book. I’ve never thought of marriage this way and it makes me wonder if I’ll meet someone who can be that family for me 🙂
While in essence a love story, I love how it also deals with several philosophical questions on time and space. Is the concept of time and space tied together, and if we return to the same space years later, can we say that it’s the same place which we left?
It feels like a fitting read in the midst of the pandemic, where we are isolated from the places we want to go and people we wish to meet again. Time seem to fly by faster than I can remember, and when we finally return to (some form of) normalcy, are we really in the same space which we left behind pre-COVID?
Nestled in between is the second pair of stories The Prophet of Corruption and That One Life (tr, Sung Ryu), where we are introduced to the world of godlike beings, where everything on Earth (and Earth itself) is their creation and extension of their will. The afterlife is being positioned as the “reality”, as we learn that The Lower Realm (Earth) is just a place that the beings reincarnate over and over again as part of their learning. During their time on Earth, they forget about their true selves, but when they go back to The Dark Realm, they retain all the memories (learnings) on Earth. This pair of stories is a harder read, given that it deals with philosophy, mythology and in some aspects, religion. I marvel at the stellar translation (which didn’t feel like one) and I could only imagine how difficult it must have been to deal with the abstract concepts and the pronouns.
It’s interesting that the two stories are sandwiched in the middle. I was swept away by the emotions in the first story, and in the next two, I find myself thinking about how minute human life is in this vast galaxy, and perhaps, somewhere, there could really be higher beings out there. Perhaps all that we felt so keenly, all that we held in utmost importance, is probably nothing but a passing moment to them. But that doesn’t mean that what we feel are not real. And in the last story, I felt that the author is trying to tell us that even a past memory can be real to us in the present moment. I’m not sure if I’m “getting” the stories right, but that was my interpretation and takeaway.
Reading the stories feels like watching a breathtaking movie, one that I will go back to time and again. I’m so glad that the readers are given an extra gift at the back, in the form of notes from the author, translators and the original readers of the pair of stories (I’m Waiting For You and On My Way to You).
In the author’s notes, Kim writes about the initial inspirations for the stories. I was surprised to find out that I’m Waiting for You was commissioned by a fan who wanted a story he could use to propose to his girlfriend. I wouldn’t have imagined it be a proposal story (and how romantic is that!) but reading the notes made me look at the story in a new light and now I can see how perfect it is for the occasion. It is also lovely to see the couple’s notes on both stories and it adds another layer to my own interpretation.
The translators’ notes are my favourite part of the book! I love how the notes take the form of several exchanges of letters (mirroring the format of two of the stories!), where they discuss their translation approaches. It offers some much appreciated insight to what goes into the translation process and how it is like for them, to work on stories on isolation, longing and hope in the midst of a pandemic. The friendship is just so sweet. The correspondences draw several parallels between the stories and their lives and it is so nice to see them discuss their interpretations and how they breathe life into the translations. It definitely contributes to the whole experience of reading the book 🙂
Get it at Harper Voyager.