In 2007, the New Yorker published "Sweetheart Sorrow," which became the first chapter of David Hoon Kim's enigmatic debut, Paris Is a Party, Paris Is a Ghost. The duration of the novel's opening 30ish pages is the only time Fumiko--a Japanese student in Paris who was the protagonist's lover--is actually alive, and yet her presence looms throughout.
Henrik Blatand is a multiply-displaced, peripatetic polyglot: he's ethnically Japanese, adopted to Denmark (with a brief educational foray in Sweden), currently not working on a literary thesis in Paris. His fleeting affair with Fumiko ends with her suicide, an event from which Henrik can't seem to recover. She appears as a corpse for a dissection class in the second chapter--although Henrik will never know her afterlife fate, as one of the students assigned to parse Fumiko's inert form takes temporary narrative control. When Henry returns to continue his story, he's an untethered wanderer, often chasing Fumiko's elusive, impossible image. His most significant relationship after Fumiko is with his goddaughter, Gém, the precocious child of a classmate.
Trained at the Sorbonne and Iowa Writers Workshop, Kim, like Henrik, is a multilingual expat-in-motion. Kim was born in Korea, raised in the U.S. and educated in France, and he is fluent in Korean, English and French. His erudite prose is undeniably sublime and polished, but there are also distracting missteps and disconnects in this debut. The exquisite beauty of his composition--combining words, crafting sentences--however, bodes well for perfecting future narratives. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon