Concerning My Daughter was first published in South Korea in 2017 as (“About My Daughter”), it’s an award winning novel.
When an ageing mother allows her thirty something year old daughter to move into her apartment, she wants what many mothers might say they want for their daughter: a steady income and, a good husband with a good a steady income too, with whom to start a family.
But Green turns up with her girlfriend, Lane, in tow, and despite having an inclination about their relationship for some years. The mother is unprepared and unwilling to welcome Lane. In fact, she is barely civil to the other woman, which was fascinating to read about because Lane gives the mother every courtesy and consideration, and more. It’s so realistic to see these uneven interactions, Lane getting a verbal bashing while her actions are nothing but noteworthy and kind.
The book is short but manages to cover several issues compellingly. It’s narrated entirely by a woman of around 70 who adds pressure to her strained relationship with her daughter by her dogged determination to oppose the life her daughter’s chosen. Apparently, the author Kim Hye-jin developed this story while reflecting on what the world might look like from the perspective of her mother’s generation.
For the mother having centred her life on her husband and child, her daughter’s definition of family is not one she can accept. Her daughter’s involvement in a case of unfair dismissal involving gay colleagues from the university where she works is similarly strange to her.
And yet when the care home where she works insists that she lower her standard of care for Jen, an elderly dementia patient who has no family, who travelled the world as a successful diplomat, who chose not to have children, Green’s mother struggles to accept this.
At the heart of the story is what could be seen as a familiar story of generational conflict. But it’s a more nuanced tale; we have a wonderfully complex narrator who is actually internally self-questioning despite being outwardly rigid and demanding of her daughter.
Kim’s narrator exists in a perpetual state of anxiety – always thinking about a (scary) future.
What about the future? What about your future? What sort of a future awaits?
Which is the reality for many people; it’s so relatable. Most of us will have heard about the importance of living in the now – from author Eckhart Tolle – and the philosophies he was by. But how often do we live in the present when we’re wondering about our next paycheck, or next bill, and the depiction of the world on the news.
The story structure is straightforward and follows a chronological timeline starting with the decision of the narrator to let her daughter move back in with her. As the story unfolds the author shows us the myriad ways in which we fail each other and how we show up for one another.
The plot and dialogue highlighters numerous valid criticisms of our modern-day societies, but the book never feels preachy. The profound criticism of how the elderly are cared for in a world where profit margins take precedence, is so relevant to our times. Kim juxtaposes her narrator’s passionate advocacy for Jen, the elderly lady in the care home and the advocacy by the narrator’s daughter, Green, in fighting for LGBTQ rights.
I didn’t find anything particularly new in the writing, but I wasn’t expecting any shock value, and that’s subjective. In the past 25 years I’ve worked as an advocate, a healthcare complaints coordinator, and a quality improvement manager for reducing institutionalised care for people who could and should be cared for in the community. The issues might not be new to me but I stillI appreciated this book as a meaningful read about these contemporary issues. While the story is set in South Korea, the themes will resonate for many readers they are from or live.
The book has a rating of 3.8 on Goodreads, and I agree with that rating. It’s worth keeping in mind when deciding to read this book that there are scenes of casual neglect in the care home and casual violence against gay and lesbian people at the protests Green takes part in.
My thanks to Netgalley and publisher Picador for the advance reader copy.
For more fabulous Pride Month and Queer Fiction recommendations all year round, check out the channels of Leo Bancroft and C’est Kevvie (I’ve linked them in my video description.