Shooting Down Heaven by Jorge Franco translated by Andrea Rosenberg
Twelve years on, when his father’s remains are discovered, Larry is summoned back to America from London, where he lives a more peaceful life. Jetlagged, and beguiled by a bereaved woman he met on the plane, he’s picked up at the airport not by his mother but by his former girlfriend and his best mate from school. Their determination to party, along with all-night fireworks, ensure he won’t sleep. When he finally meets up with his mother and older brother, he discovers that things are even worse than he thought.
The story unfolds in three narrative strands: Larry’s childhood following the death of Pablo Escobar; Larry’s journey from London; Larry’s interactions with his friends and family from his arrival in Medellín. The jumping about is confusing initially, but I soon adjusted, although never grasped why his voice is first person in one strand and third in the others. An interesting insight into a family and country damaged by the violence of drugs, this is my first read from a contemporary Colombian author. Thanks to Europa editions for my advance proof copy.
The Great Homecoming by Anna Kim translated by
Jamie Lee Searle
Yunho – whom I repeatedly confused with his brother Yunsu, and even with another character’s nanny who has little bearing on the story – is an orphan who returns to the south in 1959 to meet with his childhood friend, Johnny. Both men are in love with Eve; when, following demonstrations about rigged elections, they’re implicated in a brutal crime, the three escape to Japan, pretending to be siblings.
The Korean community is reviled by the Japanese, despite being well established. Their allegiance with the communist North comes as a shock to the three friends after living under General Rhee’s dictatorship. Moves are afoot to repatriate members of the exiles to North Korea – the great homecoming of the title – and the younger generation, to the horror of their parents, are keen to emigrate. In the course of preparations, a schoolgirl goes missing, and neither the characters nor the reader discovers where and why and how.
Now in his 70s, Yunho narrates his story to a young translator: a totally unnecessary framing and another mystery unsolved. Born in Korea, but brought up by adoptive parents in Europe, the translator has come to his/her native land to learn about his/her original home.
Interspersed with the fictional “plot” are long chunks about Korean history, which seemed to me where the author’s main interests lie. Although mentally unprepared for a non-fiction read, I found this enlightening, increasing my understanding of the psychic split between north and south, and the projections back and forth. I had the sense of the Japanese occupation as a harsh parent of twins competing for scarce resources, with America a hapless social worker – or any other misguided health professional – whose meddling makes the problem worse.
Anna Kim is a Korean-born author of four novels and two essay collections who grew up in Austria, and has received numerous awards for her words. I’m sure she has a dedicated readership, but I won’t be joining them. Thanks to UK publishers Granta for the opportunity to find out.
Although there is a reference to the poll tax riots and a chapter featuring my characters’ differing reactions to the resignation of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, my own novel about homecoming, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, set longstay psychiatric hospital closures is less political than these. Although there’s no way of knowing where we’ll be in a year’s time, I’m still working towards publication in May 2021, and I already have a draft of the cover. To be in with a chance of a free copy, register for my email newsletter.