“In 2002, my sister was murdered. Like someone who doesn’t realize spring is over, I didn’t know I’d lost myself. Lemon, lemon, lemon, my revenge has finally begun.”
In the summer of the 2002, when Korea is abuzz with the Korea-Japan FIFA World Cup, a beautiful nineteen-year-old girl named Hae-on is murdered in what would become known as the High School Beauty Murder. The novel begins with a scene in which Hae-on’s younger sister, Da-on, imagines a detective interrogating Han Manu, one of the suspects of the murder. There is one more suspect: Shin Jeongjun, whose car Hae-on was last seen in. However, Shin’s alibi is solid, and the identity of the murderer is never discovered. The case remains unsolved for years, throwing the people surrounding the event into turmoil, especially Da-on, who is unable to move on with her life.
Just as one might not be aware that spring is over, Da-on doesn’t realize that she has lost herself for a long time. She undergoes plastic surgery to look like her sister, and even gives her own daughter a name very similar to her dead sister’s. In the course of the next seventeen years, she sets out to discover the truth of what happened, all in hopes that she would recover some of what she has lost.
Lemon is told from three different alternating female perspectives: Da-on, Hae-on’s younger sister; Tae-rim, Hae-on’s classmate who was jealous of her; and Sanghui, Hae-on’s classmate who also knew Da-on. Though the book loosely follows the structure of the detective novel, finding the culprit is not the main objective here. Instead, the work explores grief and trauma, and asks important questions about guilt, retribution, and the meaning of death and life.
This novella was originally published as a short story in 2016 for the 50th anniversary issue of Changjak and Bipyeong under the title “You Do Not Know,” which was also adapted into a play of the same title. It was later revised and expanded to become Lemon.
New York Times 20 New Works of Fiction to Read (Autumn 2021)
‘Chilling, suspenseful and disconcerting. A story of taking things into one’s own hands, when driven to despair by injustice and grief. I couldn’t put it down and read deep into the night until I finished it, with my heart hammering’ – Frances Cha, author of If I Had Your Face
‘Lemon is a chilling yet deeply moving story about grief, trauma, life, death, and the shattered pieces left behind by those who are gone. The humanity of Kwon’s characters will break your heart on every page’ – An Yu, author of Braised Pork
‘A haunting literary crime story … Razor-sharp observations of class, gender and privilege in contemporary Korea’ – Cosmopolitan
‘Jolts with its brilliance and tartness. It’s simply electric’ – Kyung-sook Shin, author of Please Look After Mother