I Am the Subway

The Seoul subway system's line #2 is a circular route that's also the city's busiest; it happens to include Gangnam--as in "Gangnam Style"--among its dozens of popular stations. Author/illustrator Kim Hyo-eun's magnificent I Am the Subway highlights a train traveling along the clockwise inner circle, with passengers--rushing, relaxing, attentive, distracted--continually boarding and disembarking as they move about their day. Each gets a moment to share their thoughts, while the subway's lulling "ba-dum, ba-dum" resonates throughout. Deborah Smith, co-winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for Literature, lyrically translates this Korean bestseller.

Kim's prosaic journey begins before the title page as the subway introduces itself, preparing for another new day: "Around I go.... Crowds of people wait to climb aboard." And then we're off! Mr. Wanju is running late again, already intent on finishing work to hasten home to his lovely daughter. Granny steps on soon thereafter, laden with gifts from the sea for her family. Doors open for a busy mother of two, a shoe-repair shop owner, an exhausted student, a glove salesman. Kim insightfully acknowledges "the unique lives of strangers you might never meet again" on spread after spectacular watercolor spread, the diverse passengers each caught in a single moment in time. Kim's author's note mentions how her father taught his children to see many things; those details--"things not visible to the eye but still significant"--are exactly the elements that stupendously enhance each page: different gaits of people in motion, phones galore, bags and packages and various expressions. Lucky readers, climb aboard: extraordinary explorations await. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

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