Thursday, 14 June 2018

Nowhere To Be Found by Bae Suah

Nowhere To Be Found by Bae Suah
First published in Korean as Cheolsu in South Korea in 1998. English language translation by Sora Kim-Russell published by AmazonCrossing in April 2015.

Featured in WorldReads: South Korea

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository
Amazon US / Amazon UK

A nameless narrator passes through her life, searching for meaning and connection in experiences she barely feels. For her, time and identity blur, and all action is reaction. She can't quite understand what motivates others to take life seriously enough to focus on anything--for her existence is a loosely woven tapestry of fleeting concepts. From losing her virginity to mindless jobs and a splintered, unsupportive family, the lessons learned have less to do with the reality we all share and more to do with the truth of the imagination, which is where the narrator focuses to discover herself.

I particularly liked the day when the woman takes chicken to her soldier boyfriend as this episode summed up a lot of the book for me. She treks many miles unsuitably dressed for the cold, is messed around by officials leading to more hours journeying, her boyfriend completely fails to acknowledge the efforts she has made, and yet her ultimate reaction is incredibly conservative considering the provocation. I found this almost-acceptance of her life very sad to read. The somewhat stark use of language reinforces the whole feel of the book for me - it is what it is.

I think I did miss out on some of the subtleties of Nowhere To Be Found by my not having a great knowledge of Korean culture and daily life. The speeches about anti-weapons demonstrations seemed awkward to me. However, the impersonal message that we cannot escape our predestination is an interesting one to ponder. The woman occasionally catches glimpses of herself passing by in a better life, but believes that reality cannot be hers. Her brother wants to try working in Japan but the travel costs seem insurmountable. Her mother is already resigned.

I enjoyed the opportunity to read this novella, actually reading it twice over two days. I think it could be taken very differently depending on the mood of the reader: a positive outlook seeing it as incentive to strive, a negative outlook seeing more of a reason why not to bother. Perhaps Nowhere To Be Found would make an interesting Book Club choice?

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Bae Suah / Contemporary fiction / Books from South Korea


  1. I haven't read this one but it does sound interesting.

  2. Wow, reading it twice, and back to back at that, shows how good it is. I don't know a lot about Korean culture either so I will definitely be learning while reading this one too. I am intrigued to go into it seeing as you loved it so much. Especially the scene you highlighted!