BRIANNA HIRAMI WRITES — The reality of losing a loved one is one of the most devastating feelings in the world. Even if they just pass away peacefully in their sleep, it’s a difficult and heartbreaking realization that they simply cease to exist. Now, imagine your loved one being murdered, but instead of the killer being imprisoned, they are unidentified and now walk within civilized society freely. How can a person recover from this? Having the unknown eat away at the soul can drive even the sanest person crazy.
Kwon Yeo-Sun’s thrilling murder mystery novel, Lemon (2021), begins with the assassination of the beautiful Kim Hae-on. There are two prime suspects, Shin Jeongjun and Han Manu, who are both interrogated by detectives. As the main suspect, Han Manu is violently questioned on every detail he can remember about Hae-on before she stepped into Shin Jeongjun’s car. Unable to get any useful information from either of the boys, the case is dropped. However, the tale is brought to life through the characters in the novel that revisit the crime years after it happened. Kim Da-On, Hae-on’s younger sister, struggles to move on after her older sister’s death, and attempts to make sense of what happened the night of her sister’s murder. But the hard truth is, she may never know.
Kwon Yeo-Sun is a master in unconventional writing. Her novel, Lemon, is her first novel translated into English and is garnering popularity for its open-ended ending and its tragic story of jealously, love, and suspense. Her first novel, Niche of Green (1996), won the Sangsang Literary Award and was considered a phenomenal coming-of-age novel in South Korea. The translator of this novel, Janet Hong, won the 2018 TA First Translation Prize for Han Yujoo’s The Impossible Fairy Tale (2013). She has translated many other Korean novels with Lemon being her most recent translation.
The plot of Lemon combines the past and the present to convey the horrific murder of Kim Hae-on. Through the perspective of three women, they each fit together pieces of the story that is unknown to others. In 2002, the reader is told that Hae-on’s body was found in a park, without underwear, and died by a blunt force trauma to the head. However, even years later, the main protagonist in the novel, Kim Da-On, continues to feel the trauma of losing her sister. Kim Da-On laments that
“The roll flattened and my eyes closed at last. It died. I’d killed it. It was my sister, and it was also me. We’d both died. I was no longer Da-on. Maybe I was Chae-on or Ta-on someone or other, but I wasn’t Da-on, not on the outside not on the inside. Holding the flattened roll, I sank to the floor and cried. I cried, not knowing who I was supposed to become.”
Unable to forget about her sister’s incomplete story, Da-on interrogates Han Manu on what he saw before her sister hopped into the passenger seat of Shin Jeongjun’s car. Even though she is initially skeptical of his honestly, she ultimately believes that Han Manu did not murder her sister and they even bond over the trauma they have experienced. His sister, Seonu, confesses to Da-on that her brother grew up in major poverty and has been working at the chicken shop ever since he was in 8th grade. She mentions how back in 2002, the detectives persisted in asking Han Manu where he was at 11:00pm on the night that Hae-on died.
The story continues with the character, Taerim, confessing her thoughts to a 24-hour lifeline counselor that goes by the name of “Christ.” She quickly becomes very defensive while telling the story of her and Shin Jeongjun’s relationship, admitting that Hae-on got in between them. Taerim explains, “We really did share a perfect, innocent love. If we’d been able to go on like this, I know we could have been happier than anyone out there… But all of a sudden, she got in the way. Another girl. She came in between us and I…I didn’t know what to do. I had no idea he’d change that fast. I couldn’t believe it. Did he love her?”
Taerim tells the doctor that the girl that tried to seduce her boyfriend suffered the same deadly injuries that were described on Hae-on’s body, and states how this girl also was not wearing underwear on the night that she died. The similarities between the two stories, and how her boyfriend and Shin Jeongjun share the same occupation, strongly hints at an eerily and possibly damning secret that Taerim is trying to hide.
This murder mystery does not provide a clear answer for the reader. Instead, we are forced to hunt for clues spread throughout the novel and pull together our own conclusions on what these hints may lead to. All that is known for certain is that the memory of Hae-on will continue to live on through the love that Da-on holds for her sister.
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.