BRIANNA HIRAMI WRITES – If you thought that your long-distance relationship was difficult, just imagine being on opposite sides of the universe and the only form of communication with your significant other are letters that fail to deliver 90% of the time. Kim Bo-Young writes four short tales in I’m Waiting For You: And Other Stories (2021), with the first and last story revolving around a couple that has possibly the worst luck in the universe. Bo-Young’s first story, “I’m Waiting for You,” revolves around fifteen letters that a man sends to his fiancé. The last short story, “On My Way to You,” written from the girl’s point-of-view, consists of fifteen letters that she sends to her fiancé.
This hard-luck and nameless couple spends over 170 years of Earth-time often dealing with the worst possible scenarios in hopes of finally embracing each other. During a time when most people would give up, how does one keep hope alive? Can true love really conquer cosmic struggles like cheesy love songs say it can?
Author Kim Bo-Young, one of South Korea’s most influential science fiction writers, has had many other works translated into English. Along with I’m Waiting for You: And Other Stories and On the Origin of Species and Other Stories, Bo-Young also authored the English-translated short stories “An Evolutionary Myth” and “How Alike Are We.” Winner of the annual South Korean Science Fiction Novel Award three times, in her country she is regarded as a literary inspiration. The able collaborating translators of I’m Waiting for You: And Other Stories, Sophie Bowman and Sung Ryu, have translated multiple Korean works to acclaim.
This heart wrenching love story opens with the innocent departure of an engaged couple planning to spend four years of Earth-time (less than four months in space time) apart from one another. In response to his fiancé needing to leave Earth with her family for 4.5 years, he decides to take an “Orbit of Waiting” spaceship that will land on Earth around the same time as his fiancé’s ship. In this imagined way, he does not need to wait over four years to marry his fiancé. As they split and depart, the couple writes in romantic hopes of landing in the other person’s lap.
At first, both ships sail smoothly through space, scheduled to land on time. However, one month into the voyage, she has to write a letter to her fiancé explaining that her ship will be delayed three months and that she will miss her wedding day. Her ‘husband’ replies that he will board another ship that will land at the same time as hers, not to worry. Unfortunately, his ship takes a wrong turn, and his new scheduled landing is delayed three years in Earth-time. His fiancé gets his message as she lands back on Earth, and promptly boards another ship to align their landing times. However, after her new ship gets partially destroyed by an asteroid, she must board another ship that will take eleven years to arrive on Earth. The girl writes, “Do I have a choice, really? You’re my only home. I don’t have the heart to ask you to wait. Just, please, come out to the port…. I think that’ll make everything all right. Just knowing that you’re there under the same sky. Then, even if we’re apart we’d still be together. Our house would just be a bit big.”
When the man lands back on Earth’s port, he realizes that the conditions on Earth are now inhospitable and is advised to return in ten years. He returns less than ten years later, and Korea is completely unrecognizable. Seoul is in shambles, buildings are destroyed, the airport has been overtaken by a terrorist group. As the ship’s captain prepares to embark for another solar system, the man explains that he must return to Korea in five years to retrieve his wife. The captain looks at him like he’s insane, but gifts him a small ship. He travels throughout the solar system and periodically visits an abandoned Earth to see if his fiancé is at the port. But every time he visits the port, she is nowhere to be found.
As the girl awakens from hibernation years later, she is initially dropped off on Earth but is forced back onto a ship as she too finds planet Earth uninhabitable. She joins an “exploration” crew that every ten years returns to Earth to explore the planet’s remains. During these trips, she visits the port and the church that they planned to get married at, but there is no sign of her fiancé. Devastated but hopeful, she leaves a note at the church every time she visits Earth. Though all seems lost, she never abandons hope of reuniting. The girl lamentingly writes, “Thank you for being with me. Thank you for giving me a reason to live. You’re keeping me alive. Wherever you are now.”
True love and hope, suggests author Kim, never stop moving forward. Through all the struggles and years apart from each other, there has never been a single inkling of doubt about whether their love was worth all the pain. Every tear, head bang, and curse thrown at the world will be worth it upon their reunion. The very thought of reunification is the strength they found to live through every day. With nothing in the world guaranteed, it is the hope of love that gives the couple the strength to push through all hardships and disappointments. Perhaps a more patient Romeo and Juliet could have learned from this faithful couple the meaning of true love – not to mention today’s North and South Koreans as well.
Book reviewer Brianna Hirami is a recent graduate of Loyola Marymount University with a major in English and a minor in Asian and Pacific Studies. Brianna will attend LMU again to receive her Literature Masters.