By: Kwon Yeo-Sun
Translator: Janet Hong
Release Date: October 7, 2021
Lemon is a slow, introspective story about a cold case murder expertly written by author Kwon Yeo-Sun and translated from the original Korean by Janet Hong. Despite being focused on a cold case, this isn’t so much a whodunit, traditional murder mystery, or thriller. Instead, we find a slowly paced, introspective tale featuring a myriad of people left behind after the murder of the nineteen-year-old Kim Hae-on: how they cope and do not cope, how they move on and how time stops in that moment forever.
Kwon Yeo-Sun paints a world of dichotomies. One the one hand, there is the beautiful Kim Hae-on. On the other, there is her younger sister Kim Da-on, who things of herself as plain, perhaps worse than plain in comparison to her sister. Likewise, we are confronted with South Korea at large, the bustling town the Kim sister’s live in, the school they attend, and the excited fever of the FIFA World Cup which is being held in Korea that year—2022. Yet, everything surviving Hae-on’s murder is bleak and without color. From the cold room suspect Han Manu is being questioned into a house devoid of one of its children, we see a world that may be surviving but is not truly alive.
Kim Hae-on becomes more than the happy, beautiful high school girl that she was. To the town, she becomes the victim in The High School Beauty Murder. To Da-on, she is the sister she will never live up to and never surpass, for how can you measure up to someone no longer there? Hae-on is a mystery, a void in the souls of the people she left behind, a metaphorical ghost that haunts them throughout their lives.
Time moves on in the novel. Da-on and Han Manu grow older and enter the workforce. Yet, Hae-on won’t let them fully move on with their lives. She is ever present. The mystery of who her murderer truly is hangs over the characters’ heads, the atmosphere so stifling and oppressive that it hangs over the reader too. The heat of summer is oppressive, a never-ending thing that will never truly let go.
These are flawed people, but they are flawed people trying to function in a desperate, grieving place that has no how-to book. There isn’t really a clear way forward, not with so many questions left unanswered and not without so Hae-on finally coming home. Only, she can’t come home, of course. And therein lies the problem.
This is a short novel that begs to be read not once but twice. The slow, introspective, claustrophobic feeling of much of the novel is something that sticks with you long after you read the last page, begging the reader to pick up the novel once again.