Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Drifting House - Krys Lee

Author Krys Lee (left) at 10 Magazine's book club meeting in  Seoul.

I've been feeling jealous lately of bloggers going off to author readings and book signings, but now it's everyone's turn to be jealous of me.  On Sunday in Itaewon at Cafe Bene, author Krys Lee talked to the 10 Magazine book club about her debut book of short stories, Drifting House.  The nine stories are about Koreans (Northern and Southern) who seem to be either figuratively or literally unmoored from their lives, both in their home countries and abroad.

All of the stories are wonderful, but three standouts are the title story, "Salaryman", Lee's first published story, and "The Goose Father", which she said "turned from a story about a social situation [Goose fathers are men who send their wives and children abroad so that the children can escape the extreme competitiveness of the educational system while they, the fathers, stay in Korea to work and earn money] into a love story."

Happily, Drifting House has gotten good reviews in the United States, and will soon be available in Korean, so I've been recommending it to my students and Korean co-workers. When I'm not doing that, I'm trying to get the word out to the non-Korean bookworms around me.  Krys Lee signed my copy, and I immediately pushed it into the hands of my Cracked Spinz crony, Pieter, who also attended the discussion and asked Lee some excellent questions about her work.

I was impressed with Krys Lee the writer while I was devouring the stories in Drifting House, and I was even more impressed  with her personally.  She was articulate and thoughtful.  She had so many interesting and helpful things to say about the writing process that had to have been encouraging to any fledgling authors present. Something that particularly resonated with me was her comment that fiction writers should read a lot of poetry.  Lee started out writing poetry, which explains the graceful economy of her prose and her memorable images.  "Poetry is everything to me," she said.

Perhaps she has this effect on everyone, but I felt such an affinity with her.  She's my kind of writer, meaning that her stories begin with a character, or perhaps "bits of words [that]come to me and delight me".  She also said that "...each story surprises me.  If it didn't, I couldn't write it.  We write to discover."  She noted that her first drafts are "exciting, and there's mystery, then I'm lost, but while I'm lost, I start to understand the characters more.  The story never ends like I think it will.  The story will show you."

Even more delightfully, Lee's conversation is heavily punctuated with mentions of authors' names.  I was taking mad notes, but I lost track of them all:  Alice Munro.  Raymond Carver.  Gogol.  Dostoevsky.  Lee grew up in the United States as the daughter of a Korean minister, which probably explains why she is also attracted to Karen Armstrong's writing, citing her journey from cloistered Catholic nun to scholar of world religions.

 This is how you know an author is the real deal:  Does he or she read?  Thanks to Krys Lee, I was able to add to my already massive reading list.  I respect her even more as a writer, too.  If I could get down on the floor and back up again without fear of injury to myself or others, I would give Krys Lee that big respect bow they do here in Korea, in which one's forehead is resting against the floor.

Listening to Krys Lee talk about books and writing was pure pleasure and I could have listened to her talk all night.  Since she lives in Seoul, maybe I'll get to meet her again before she's insanely famous and goes around with an entourage.

Feeling envious yet?  Good.  Go buy a copy of Drifting House and read it immediately.  I'm impatient to discuss it with everyone.


Sam said...

OK, I'm jealous now. The author sounds like a really interesting and personable guest. I'm going to take a look at her book; thanks for the heads up.

Nan said...

Lucky you! I definitely want to read this.

jenclair said...

You are right, and I am jealous. Love your enthusiasm for the author and the book!