The Great Homecoming

In this beautifully written, effortlessly told epic novel, Austrian-Korean author Anna Kim takes the reader on a journey through three decades of Korean history.

Seoul in the late 1950s. After years of separation, Yunho Kang finds his childhood friend Johnny again and moves in with him. Yunho also meets Eve Moon, Johnny’s mysterious lover. Soon enough Yunho, too, begins a clandestine affair with Eve. However, their lives are made up of far more than love affairs and friendship. After a war and an ensuing civil war, South Korea is ruled by an increasingly despotic regime suspicious of potential communist activities. Food scarcity and poverty are rife. The American influence on the country is strong, having replaced the previous Japanese dominance. The constantly shifting ideologies have a devastating effect on the population, and Yunho, Johnny and Eve all have their own opinions and allegiances. When Johnny kills a fellow member of a pro-regime group in a fight, the three friends have to flee the country. They escape to Japan, where they try to make a new home for themselves in the Korean community of Osaka. But politics is everywhere, and the lure of the ‘Great Homecoming’ to North Korea will eventually tear the friends apart.

Having moved from South Korea to Germany and then to Austria at a young age, Anna Kim is in a unique position to tell a story rarely told in European literature. By using personal histories as a jumping-off point for extended meditations about Korean history, she effortlessly recreates the feeling of paranoia and dread of living in an authoritarian regime. As the political landscape shifts, so do her characters’ loyalties and convictions. Kim explores the impact of propaganda on society, the fluidity of identities, and the overwhelming alienation felt by her characters both in their own country and as emigrants in Japan.

Packed with striking details about Korean history and society, The Great Homecoming is nevertheless not a novel that depends on its setting to succeed. Part spy novel, part love story, part war novel, this is a many-layered and absorbing book that will appeal to readers everywhere. Kim’s beautiful, understated style is a constant thread, guiding the reader through the highs and lows of history and tragedy.

Anna Kim was born in 1977 in Daejeon, South Korea. In 1979 her family moved first to Germany and later to Vienna, Austria, where she has lived since 1984. Anna Kim has received numerous awards, including the 2009 Austrian State
Fellowship for Literature, the 2009 Elias Canetti Fellowship, the Robert Musil Fellowship 2010, and the Austrian Prize for Literature 2009.

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Suhrkamp Verlag was founded in 1950 by Peter Suhrkamp and directed for over forty years by Dr. Siegfried Unseld. The independent publishing company now includes Insel Verlag (founded in Leipzig in 1899), the Jüdischer Verlag (founded in Berlin in 1902), as well as the Deutscher Klassiker Verlag (established in 1981) and the newly founded Verlag der Weltreligionen (established in 2006). Suhrkamp focuses on both contemporary literature and the humanities. Its distinguished list includes leading writers from Germany, Switzerland and Austria, many of whom made their debuts with the firm, besides major international authors of both fiction and non-fiction, including several Nobel Prize winners.

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