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Family and Lemonade

Posted December. 15, 2007 03:36,   


“When life gives me lemons, I’m going to make lemonade.”

Last time we met with Jeon Gyeong-rin (45•picture) she talked about lemons in her book, but now she’s made lemonade and drunk it, too.

In the interval, her novel My Mother’s House was published. It was around the time “family” was an issue in Korea, and society was just beginning to accept single mothers, mixed children, and other various iterations of the family. My Mother’s House deals with these new-age definitions of family, and looks for direction in the future.

“My mom is the traditional Korean woman.” “Did your mother leave you, too?”

The introduction is succinct and slightly unnerving. Through the conversations of female college students, the author strives to show the circumstances surrounding Korean families today. Like many of Jeon’s previous novels, the mother in My Mother’s House left her young daughter. Prior to leaving, the mother was “like a ballet doll made of glass. The glass doll was lying on the bed because it had a crack down its leg. It seemed like it would never get up.”

The mother worked day and night to earn money, and bought a house. Ho-eun, the daughter, is now 20 years of age and finally living with her mother. Her father, the reason the mother left, is from an age that belongs with “ancient computers.” He leaves to Ho-eun a little girl named Seung-ji and disappears out of their lives. Seung-ji is Ho-eun’s stepsister, the daughter of her stepmother. Left with another woman’s daughter, the mother takes Ho-eun and Seung-ji to find the whereabouts of the father. But the only thing they learn on that journey is the deep fatigue and sense of defeat stemming from a wasted youth.

The family in My Mother’s House will seem highly eccentric in terms of social norms. The divorcee mother has a boyfriend but no intention of marrying him. The daughter Ho-eun is in love with her girlfriend, and is tormented and confused by her sexuality. Little Seung-ji, while not a blood relation to either woman, cannot help but depend upon the two.

Jeon depicts this odd family in a tranquil and unaffected manner. She asks her readers whether it is time yet to discard old conventions and accept new kinds of families. Growing up in “a house full of food smells and the ringing sound of running water in the kitchen,” Seung-ji is told by the mother to “protect yourself” after she goes through puberty and gets her period. Ho-eun discusses her sexual orientation with her mother, and accepts her mother’s wisdom to “be happy the way you are.”

Unlike Jeon’s previous novels, where the anguished characters dealt with their own pain, My Mother’s House is about reconciling with others. She says, “I wrote to the end of this book thinking about me, my children, and the pure love that I want to prove exists in this world.” On this point, the change is evident in Jeon’s work.

This book closely resembles the previously published “Home Sweet Home” by writer Gong Ji-yeong. Jeon clarifies that Gong’s book had no effect on My Mother’s House, saying, “I thought of this book in 2005 and pieced everything together.” Perhaps this goes to show that the topic of “family” is a sensitive issue at this moment in time.