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[Herald Interview] Through memories, Bora Jin pens ode to grandfather and Busan

'Prescription for You From Memory Care' translation competition winner will be reviewed for publication by Penguin Random House

Nov. 7, 2023 - 16:39 By Hwang Dong-hee
Bora Jin poses during an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul, in October. (Hwang Dong-hee/The Korea Herald)

Memories may fade with time, but the genuine emotions within the memories persist, Bora Jin, an author and winner of the 2022 New Korean Voice Prize, said about her debut novel, “A Prescription for You From Memory Care.”

The award was launched by the New York-based Barbara J. Zitwer Agency in collaboration with the Charm Agency in Seoul to discover new voices in the Korean literary scene. After Jin's win a year ago, the book was published in August.

The inspiration for the novel came from a promise that Jin had made to her grandfather, Jin Se-beom, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She said her writing was to cherish their precious memories.

“I was really close to my grandfather. He lived in our neighborhood, and I used to visit him often. Our personalities were similar. He was the only one who understood me, even more so than my parents,” said Jin in a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul.

She described him as a vivacious person who was a bit brusque, but warm. He had a penchant for fashion, owning an extensive collection of colorful fedoras. At the age of 60, he went to Beijing to study and returned with an acupuncture license. Jin's eyes sparkled as she recounted tales of her grandfather. He passed away in 2018, before she started work on her novel.

About six years ago, when he was diagnosed with cancer, his strength began to wane. Jin was spending time with him one day when he asked her to take a photo of him, with his eyes closed, from above.

“I took the photo and he said he was curious about how he would look after his death. At that moment, it struck me that I would lose him," she said. "I think my grandfather wanted to be remembered and not forgotten by his loved ones. I felt compelled to write a book in his memory."

“A Prescription for You From Memory Care” by Bora Jin (EunHaeng NaMu Publishing)

The novel is set in a near-future dystopia in which the city introduces a memory management system designed to erase traumatic memories and preserve a utopian facade that controls each person’s memories.

The protagonist, Bom, who wants to protect the memory of her late grandfather, becomes entangled in the secret marketing of a pharmaceutical company that produces memory care drugs. She stumbles upon a shocking secret that the city has concealed for years. The narrative explores mental health issues and trauma, emphasizing the importance of remembering.

“Some memories validate our existence. Every moment becomes the past, and without memories, we lose our sense of where we come from and where we are headed.”

Bora Jin poses during an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul, in October. (Hwang Dong-hee/The Korea Herald)

The book is also an ode to her hometown of Busan, with the port city as the backdrop for the story. Born and raised in Busan, Jin expressed deep affection for her hometown..

The novel features her grandfather's old house, Hillside Road, the Nakdong River and the river island Eulsukdo. Sun City, described as a burgeoning metropolis across the river, draws inspiration from Busan's Myungji-dong and Centum City.

Initially, she attempted to set her story in Seoul, but found herself unable to tell that story.

“I realized that I needed to write what I know, instead of imitating. So I brought Busan and my daily life in this city as the backdrop.”

Jin said she extensively read and researched the city’s urban planning and local folk culture. While writing, she passed the civil service exam and gained employment at the urban planning department of Busan. She is currently on leave for health reasons.

“Busan boasts such a rich history. As the country’s major port city, it has been influenced by various cultures and a constant influx of ideas."

Jin is now working on another story under the working title of “Room Sharing,” which is part of her envisioned “City Trilogy” set in her fictional city inspired by Busan.

Meanwhile, the Barbara J. Zitwer Agency has organized a competition for the translation of "A Prescription for You From Memory Care." Entries will be accepted until Dec. 31, and the selected translator will be entrusted with the complete translation of the work. Penguin Random House will then review the translated version for the potential worldwide distribution of the English-language edition.