Book Review: Lemon by Kwon Yeo-sun

Lemon – Kwon Yeo-sun (Other Press, 2021)

I received an Advance Uncorrected Proof of this book. All opinions are my own. It is available in bookstores now.

Lemon is a short book, just under 150 pages, divided into eight brief sections, moving forward through time from 2002 to 2019. These sections have different narrators though the most frequent is a young woman named Da-on. The central conflict of each section and the book as a whole is the murder of a teenage girl in the summer of 2002. Kim Hae-on was known for her incredible beauty and there were two immediate suspects following her death. But the murder remains unsolved and it haunts the lives of those involved. Da-on is Hae-on’s younger sister and we see how the violent loss of her sibling shapes her adult years and decisions. We also learn of Han Manu, a less wealthy boy who is initially accused of the murder and we see the way that Da-on’s and Han Manu’s lives entwine in the years to come.

If you’re looking for a murder mystery, this is not really it. The book is largely uninterested in solving Hae-on’s murder though we do gain a pretty good idea of what happened before the end of the book. Instead, this is a story that touches on what it means to be young and female, the ways our social class can decide our very lifespan, plus ideas of beauty and the power that it can wield.

This book was translated from the Korean by Janet Hong.

11 thoughts on “Book Review: Lemon by Kwon Yeo-sun”

    1. Yeah, if you went into this wanting a murder mystery, I expect you’d be disappointed. Apparently the author has several books but this is the first to be translated into English. I’m curious if all her work is like this.

  1. It sounds like there wasn’t a whole lot to this novella. I’m used to reviews by you are that are clearly opinionated, but this one seems more like it hit you right in the “meh.” I know the feeling, because those reviews are so hard to write.

    1. Haha, you caught me! I feel pretty neutral about this one. Partly, on consideration, I think this was really written with a Korean audience and so there is probably a lot of cultural subtext that I am missing. I’ve read other books that focus on the beauty industry in Korea and it’s touched upon here but I would have liked to see it more fully explored. Then again, if she’s writing for a Korean audience, they may not need that expansion. It’s a hard book to classify too because it’s not a mystery exactly and it’s not character based because it moves between characters too much.

    2. I’ve read that skin lightening creams are still really popular in Korea. Someone shared a book review about beauty products in Korea, but now I can’t remember the name of it…

    3. Yeah, that’s quite a popular thing throughout Asia, I think. I’ve seen ads for such creams in China and the Philippines too. One novel I read that focused on beauty and Korean culture and that stuck with me was If I Had Your Face.

  2. I think I’d really like this book – I love the way certain novels are borne from a tragedy, but bloom into something else that focuses on the lives around that tragedy, I find that most fascinating. Still, I do a look a good mystery that focuses on solving said tragedy too 🙂

    1. Yes, I think you might. It wasn’t my favourite but more that it wasn’t a stylistic fit for me than anything else. You do get a good idea of what really happened so there isn’t a sense of unsolved mystery here.

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