Shoko’s Smile: Stories by Eun-young Choi

When it comes to collections of short stories, more often than not, I find myself rather unaffected by them. While most collections do have one or two good stories in them, the remainder tends to be either forgettable or plain bad. The stories in Shoko’s Smile are by no means terrible but they did strike me as rather monotonous, dull even. I liked Eun-young Choi’s restrained prose and that many of her stories hone in on life’s quieter moments. Most of her stories are characterised by a sense of loss: there are those who are grieving the death of a loved one, those who regret not having done more to understand a friend or a relation of theirs, and those who long to be reunited with someone they care for. Generational divides also seem to be a recurring motif within this collection, as many stories feature children/parents or grandchildren/grandparents.

The blurb’s comparison to Banana Yoshimoto does seem rather fitting, although I did find Choi’s tone to be slightly more sombre. I liked that the stories didn’t exclusively focus on South Korean characters, as we ones are starring Vietnamese and Japanese ones.
While Choi’s themes were interesting and I did like her unadorned yet polished, the stories themselves…well, they didn’t necessarily move me. Take the first story for example. The dynamic between the narrator and Shoko had potential but then as the narrative progresses the story veers into melodrama. A lot of the characters also sounded very much like the same person, which didn’t help to differentiate their stories. They were too ‘samey’ and despite their relatively short length, I found my interested waning more often than not.
I am sure other readers will find these stories more heart-rendering than I did so I recommend you check out some more positive/in-depth reviews.

my rating: ★★★☆☆

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