The Great Homecoming by Anna Kim Translated by Jamie Lee Searle

1. First lines. 2. Published 2020 Granta Originally published in German as Die Grosse Heimkehir in 2017 by Suhrkamp Verlag Berlin 3. Kim Il-sung By yeowatzup [CC BY 2.0] (Image has been cropped) via Wikimedia 4. Daepo-ro, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea By song songroov [CC BY 3.0] (Image has been cropped) via Wikimedia

This is the story of Yunho whose family lived in North Korea. Leaving his home in North Korea in 1959, he goes to South Korea, where he finds his childhood friend Johnny with Eve, a dancer in a nightclub in Seoul. South Korea is a dictatorship at this time, and amongst the political unrest Yunho, Johnny and Eve are involved in a brutal crime. They flee to Japan, where they try to start a new life with other Korean migrants, but Yunho never stops thinking about his home in North Korea.


“Missu Sato, as everyone called her, was a spherical woman. Everything about her was round: her face, her hair (a jet black curly wig), even her nose (as round as a clown’s), and the only exception was her gaze, which was sharp, piercing.”

“… the campaign was even being advertised in the papers in Japan, ‘the Great Homecoming’ they were calling it, how ridiculous, the Great Homecoming! How many of these home-hungry people were really from North Korea, he said, it could only be a fraction after all, most had been wrenched from their villagers in the south during the Second World War and loaded onto Japanese ships as slave labourers, forced to work from the day of their arrival – in mines, in munitions factories – but now the Japanese government wanted rid of them, to avoid paying compensation.”

“Back then it was inadvisable to depend upon just one life story, and it had never been easier to acquire several or exchange the one you had for another.”

My opinion:

This is a very dense read in the parts that describe the events in Korea’s history. Those parts seem to overshadow the story of the three main characters.

The opinion of others:
  • Shiny New Books: “A hugely rewarding reading experience for anyone interested in this particular region of the world or beautifully translated literature, The Great Homecoming is a magnificent example of how the structure, the very language, of a novel can both mirror and add depth to its subject. Exploring a troubled history and the knotty nature of identity and homeland, it is a profound, complex and mesmerising work of fiction from one of Austria’s most inspiring contemporary authors.”
  • Book Blast: “Kim forces us to consider the infinite stories of exile and suffering during this period of Korean history, which makes the book all the more tender, delicate and human. The Great Homecoming may be a historical novel, but it puts people – a people; an entire nation – at its heart.”

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