INTO THIS WORLD, by sybil baker
Reviewed by Amye Barrese Archer
I'll admit, it took me a while. Despite my English degree, despite the fact that I have, against my will, read the "canon," I still have trouble with setting and expository writing. So when I picked up Sybil Baker's Into This World, and felt it started slow, I can't make that statement without assuming it just might be my own ignorance or impatience. In other words, it may not start slow for you, just because it did for me. The story opens with Allison, a young, white woman who has just quit her job after what we can deduce was a disastrous affair with her married boss. Allison soon learns that her adopted sister, Mina, is in trouble. At a crossroads in her own life, Allison decides to take off for Seoul, Korea to find and help her sister.
While the setup for the plot feels a little lethargic, the narrative soon splits into two directions: one is the current story of Allison trying to save Mina from a rather self-destructive lifestyle, and the other takes place thirty or so years earlier when Allison's father, Wayne, was stationed in Korea as a young soldier. And this is where Baker really hooked me, with the story of Wayne and Korea as seen through a young GI's eyes.
Wayne, Allison and Mina's father, joined the military when Allison was only a baby. He left his wife and his daughter and was thrust into a country on the brink of collapse. The sights and sounds, and the Korea that Baker paints around us with her words is lively and brilliant, a feat not often seen in modern literature. She pulls us into the narrative, into the "tin alleyways of crumbling houses," and for a while it felt as though all I had to do was poke my head out of my door and I, too, would be there.
And where is there? There is Korea, there is a country full of desolation and depravity. There is a world where Wayne seems not to fit, or at least is resistant to assimilate. Wayne, homesick for his wife and daughter, resists the urges to which his other companions have submitted. He refuses to get himself a yobasayo, or a girl, reaffirming his commitment to Bonnie, his wife, back home. But Wayne is human, and he's fallible, and sooner than later he has a hooch and a yobasayo named Sunny to fill it with food, sex, and warmth. Wayne and Sunny have a tender and loving story. I found myself engrossed thoroughly in their story, even though I figured out pretty quickly how it would end. Wayne's moral struggle made for a wonderful backdrop to the story of modern day Korea as seen and lived through the eyes of Allison and Mina.
Allison and Mina's relationship was strained at best, although at times I felt like Allison was painted as a bit too immature, still carrying around the jealousy she felt at three years old, when Mina was brought home and adopted. Still, I followed their journey closely as the sisters found one another and eventually came to accept one another's faults. The story ends with Mina discovering who she is and where she came from, and of course, Allison's acceptance of Mina's place in her life.
Baker is a poet. Some of the language in this book completely floored me.
For example: "Her sadness caught in her throat for a moment before resettling into the black hollow between her breasts."
and another: "He preferred the comfort and solace of one woman, one body he could return to night after night, to study that one body's curves, and breathing, and aches, and moles, and scars, so that years later, if called upon, he could conjure that one body from head to toe."
She's also very gifted at intertwining two stories. As I learned more about Wayne, Sunny, and eventually Mina, I was completely sucked into the story. Into This World is a story about perception and what it means to blur the lines when constructing history. But more importantly, it is a story about family, belonging, and the epic struggle we all face every day: acceptance.
Amye Archer lives at www.amyearcher.com, go, ring her doorbell, visit, drink all of her beer.