Counsel Culture

Award-winning Korean author Kim Hye-jin's sublime sophomore title-in-translation, Counsel Culture, is the spare, intense study of a woman in crisis, a subject Kim so strikingly presented in her 2022 Anglophone debut, Concerning My Daughter. She reunites with translator Jamie Chang, who again skillfully mirrors Kim's clean, affecting prose.

"Haesoo follows a regimented routine," waking, eating, and tidying at regular hours. Before dinner, she writes letters she abandons mid-sentence, which reveal the troubling details of her isolation. She takes the pages with her on evening walks, returning home only after destroying her "scrupulously worded" missives. Careful habits help her not "abandon hope that she will recover the inner self she had before." Haesoo was once a respected therapist and regular television talk-show commentator. During one such appearance, she made careless remarks--while following a studio's script--about a badly behaved actor who later died by suicide. Social media condemned Haesoo as his murderer, imploding her career, her personal relationships, her very sense of self. A feral stray cat and a neighborhood 10-year-old child named Sei disrupt Haesoo's insulated schedule and prove to be mutual catalysts for healing.

Originally published in Korea in 2022, Kim's original Korean title implies listening carefully, a faltering skill under social media's relentless ubiquity. Chang's sly, clever English title does double duty, acknowledging both therapy and cancel culture. Silencing looms throughout: Haesoo's downfall, predominantly, but also the bullying and neglect that young Sei endures as well as the casual cruelty helpless animals suffer. Remarkably, Kim avoids both didactic pronouncements and simplistic solutions, gifting audiences a thoughtful, multilayered exploration of unexpected, restorative connections. --Terry Hong

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