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Review of Bae Suah’s “Untold Night and Day”: reflections and repetitions


Cover of Bae Suah’s novel Untold Night and Day – up-close picture of a woman with a silver of light across her face.

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I received Bae Suah’s novel as an Easter present. Considering we are all in lock-down at the moment, I welcomed a new book to read. I am a fan of Korean literature and was delighted to find out that Deborah Smith, the translator of Han Kang’s works, had worked on Suah’s translation into English.

Suah is a master of prose. She effortlessly weaves the lives of her characters together through repetitions that roll around the novel like deja vu for the reader. As the narrative unfolds, characters also blur together and at times it feels impossible to know if Ayami is the German teacher, the poet, or the director. At times, Ayami embodies all of them which feels like Suah commenting on the universality of human experiences, especially nostalgia.

The candle left out on the windowsill had melted without ever having been lit; the wax collapsed pathetically under the sun’s fierce rays, its shape suggesting the peculiar way love concludes. By the time the heatwave came to an end, nothing remained of people but ash. They became fused into panes of glass: grey and opaque.

p.16-7

Throughout Suah’s book there is a desire from each character to fulfill some sort of dream – whether it is writing, falling in love, connecting with people, or achieving power and success. The lives of each character echo in one another – “I had been talking with ghosts of myself, perhaps the ghosts of my future. I just hadn’t realised it!” (p. 44).

The reader goes along with the narrative never quite sure of what will come next, yet there is this beautiful comfort in reading Suah’s prose. Despite the uncertainties in the narrative and the disturbing scenes of Ayami being stalked, there is an eerie calmness that washes over each page.

I couldn’t undo a single one of the many knots that had formed between us. Those knots will keep dragging me along, shaping my life …

p.45

Untold Night and Day is a reasonably short but emotive read. If you are a lover of beautiful prose writing, artful narrative structure, and strange mesmerizing characters, then this novel is a must-read.

I am extremely excited to read more of Suah’s works and am thrilled that people like Deborah Smith are translating Korean literature into English. What Korean authors do you love? As always, share the reading love.

Buy a copy here.

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