Excerpt from Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Dusapin, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Winter in Sokcho

by Elisa Dusapin

Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Dusapin X
Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Dusapin
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  • Published:
    Apr 2021, 160 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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Winter in Sokcho

HE ARRIVED bundled up in a woolen coat.

He put his suitcase down at my feet and pulled off his hat. Western face. Dark eyes. Hair combed to one side. He looked straight through me, without seeing me. Somewhat impatiently, he asked me in English if he could stay for a few days while he looked around for something else. I gave him a registration form to fill in. He handed me his passport so I could do it for him. Yan Kerrand, 1968, from Granville. A Frenchman. He seemed younger than in the photo, his cheeks less hollow. I held out my pencil for him to sign and he took a pen from his coat. While I was checking him in, he pulled off his gloves, placed them on the counter, inspected the dust, the cat figurine on the wall above the computer. I felt compelled, for the first time since I'd started at the guest house, to make excuses for myself. I wasn't responsible for the run-down state of the place. I'd only been working there a month.

There were two buildings. In the main building, the reception, kitchen and visitors' lounge downstairs, and a hallway lined with guest rooms. Another hallway with more guest rooms upstairs. Orange and green corridors, lit by bluish light bulbs. Old Park hadn't moved on from the days after the war, when guests were lured like squid to their nets, dazzled by strings of blinking lights. From the boiler room, on clear days, I could see the beach stretching all the way to the Ulsan mountains that swelled on the horizon. The second building was around the back of the first one, down a long alleyway. A traditional house on stilts, restored to make the most of its two rooms with their heated floors and paper dividing walls. An internal courtyard with a frozen fountain and a bare chestnut tree. There was no mention of Old Park's in the guidebooks. People washed up there by chance, when they'd had too much to drink or missed the last bus home.

The computer froze. I left it to recover while I went over the information for guests with the Frenchman. It was usually Old Park's job to do this but he wasn't there that day. Breakfast from 5 A.M. to 10, in the kitchen next to the reception, through the sliding glass door. No charge for toast, butter, jam, coffee, tea, orange juice, and milk. Fruit and yogurt extra, put a thousand won in the basket on top of the toaster. Items to be washed should be left in the machine at the end of the corridor on the ground floor, I'd take care of the laundry. Wi-Fi password: ilovesokcho, all one word, no capitals. Convenience store open twenty-four hours a day, fifty meters down the road. Bus stop on the left just past the shop. Seoraksan National Park, one hour away, open all day until sunset. A good pair of boots recommended, for the snow. He should bear in mind that Sokcho was a seaside resort, I added. There wasn't much to do in the winter.

Guests were few and far between at that time of year. A Japanese climber, and a girl about my age, seeking refuge from the capital while she recovered from plastic surgery to her face. She'd been at the guest house for about two weeks, her boyfriend had just joined her for ten days. I'd put all three of them in the main house. Business had been slow since the death of Park's wife the previous year. Park had closed up the upstairs bedrooms. When you included my room and Park's, all the rooms were taken. The Frenchman could sleep in the other building.

It was dark. We set off down the narrow alleyway past Mother Kim's stall. Her pork balls gave off an aroma of garlic and drains that lingered in the mouth all the way down the street. Ice cracked beneath our feet. Pallid neon lights. We crossed a second alleyway and came to the front porch.

Kerrand slid the door open. Pink paint, plastic faux baroque mirror, desk, purple bedspread. His head brushed the ceiling, from wall to bed was no more than two steps for him. I'd given him the smallest room in the building, to save on cleaning. The communal bathroom was across the courtyard, but he wouldn't get wet, there was a covered walkway all around the house. It didn't bother him anyway. He examined the stains on the wallpaper, put down his suitcase, handed me five thousand won. I tried to refuse it but he insisted, wearily.

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Excerpted from Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Dusapin. Copyright © 2021 by Elisa Dusapin. Excerpted by permission of Open Letter. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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