STOCK MARKET BSE NSE

'Violets' book review: Loneliness as a companion

Just as silence has its own music, sorrow, too, has a rhythm of its own in this translation

Published: 19th June 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th June 2022 07:51 PM   |  A+A-

'Violets' by Kyung-sook Shin

'Violets' by Kyung-sook Shin

Express News Service

In the afterword for Violets, Kyung-sook Shin writes, “Violets are very small plants. So small, they’re easily overlooked as weeds. That’s why I decided on the title Violets. There are women all around us who exist in silence, anonymous and without anything special about them; she could be me and she could be you. To amplify the voices of those women, whom no one could hear unless one was listening very carefully, to let them speak through my words––this is Violets.” While reading Shin’s novel, which was originally published in Korean in 2001, and translated into English by Anton Hur this year, I could instantly recognise the sound of silence because of its blatant association with its bolder sibling, loneliness. Silence and loneliness may not look identical.

And one can freely operate without the assistance of the other, but they are usually found together, like a bat and a ball, a notepad and a pen. The protagonist of Violets, San, feels lonely wherever she goes, as she keeps her thoughts and desires bottled up. She’s had to look after herself from a young age––her father has always been absent from her life, and her mother too, after a certain point, goes away to fill the void in her romantic heart. Therefore, without any relatives to depend on and friends to share her stories with, she crawls into a shell that nothing––and nobody––can get her out of. In the Emmy Award-winning television show Fleabag, the title character quips, “I don’t think you have to be alone to be lonely.”

It’s true. Even when San finds a job in a flower shop and her co-worker, Su-ae, moves in with her, she just can’t relate to the things that happen around her. Sure, San could have seen a therapist and learnt to put an end to whatever had been holding her back and become happier, but that’s not how reality works. We’re all wired differently. And, hence, we seek different comforts.

Loneliness doesn’t follow San like a somber shadow. Actually, it appears as though she lives with it. Perhaps, there can be no better example than the men in a Haruki Murakami story to paint a picture of loneliness in contemporary Asian literature. People, in his works, generally prefer solitude and don’t like any activity that involves socialising. That way, San is also a typical introvert, but there are other layers to her personality. When she develops feelings for a photographer, she begins to stalk him. And despite wishing to have a chat with him, she can’t bring the requisite words to her mouth. She thinks her inability to form relationships is due to the rejection she faced by a friend in her school-going days.

It could have been a reason, yes; but I don’t think that’s the only thing she can place the entire blame on. A single, devastating event is more than enough to change our attitude. However, I believe that’s not the case with San. She could have confided in Su-ae, who goes out of her way to make her feel better. Why doesn’t she do that? Does she not trust her? Maybe, that’s what the core of loneliness looks like. We push away the very people who dote on us and crumble under the weight of diabolical doubts. Behind the brave face that San puts on, lurks a broken part that she can’t repair. Su-ae also isn’t free from problems. However, she has found a solution to them and that means running away from the flower shop every now and then, and returning once her mind has settled into calmness.

The shop is owned by her uncle, so she knows she won’t get fired. Now that’s a privilege San cannot boast of. If San doesn’t work for a month or two, she won’t be able to pay rent, or buy groceries. Violets is pretty much a straightforward story that offers no straight answers, and unlike Please Look After Mom (2011), the novel that brought Shin international recognition, women don’t spend their lives caring for their husbands and children here. They rather try to be independent in a world that profoundly tilts towards the needs and wants of men and the only thing that gives them a sense of belonging is the place where flowers of all kinds welcome them at all times.



Comments

Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the newindianexpress.com editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on newindianexpress.com are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of newindianexpress.com or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. newindianexpress.com reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp