Yeon-sik Hong's Umma's Table: In stores now!
There’s a scene in Umma’s Table where two planets, or worlds, are orbiting each other—separate but different and attached through their gravitational pull to one another. Kept afloat in the sky by that same physics. As a thirty-four-year-old single woman living in Canada on the opposite side of the country from my (healthy) parents, my life and stresses are pretty dissimilar to Madang’s (the main character and stand in for Yeon-sik Hong), yet the emotions in this book, and represented in this planetary metaphor, ache with reliability. I think anyone with any sort of family remotely in their life would feel the same.
It’s a dramatic metaphor, but readers of Yeon-sik will recall he uses this device generously and humorously, playing up his own private worries to generous scale. It’s one of the many charms of his work. The weight in which he feels his emotions is so sincere, that the shouting or outbursts into song somehow always feel just right.
This push and pull of family, of responsibilities—Son, Husband, Father—are at the centre of Umma’s Table. The responsibly and weight all these roles carry, and the guilt for finding joy in ones own chosen life while the family they’ve left behind becomes less central, and struggles. From his young child, to himself, his wife, his brother, to his ageing parents, Yeon-sik shows us the reality of aging, from the initial joys and beauty of childhood development to the tragedy of death, and all the good and bad in between.
Throughout Umma’s Table, Yong-sik circles back to food—the traditions honoured in food preparation and the act of eating, at the table—a uniting furniture piece for the family. Particularly resonant in this book is the way we can find comfort in food and tradition and the care we extend intergenerationally. That care looks different right now, but these ideas have never felt more crucial and grounding.
Expertly translated by Janet Hong, Umma’s Table is in stores now. It’s joyful and heart wrenching. Like most good literature. Yeon-sik’s melodrama and raw honesty blend together into a perfectly rendered display of human vulnerability.
Submitted by Tracy Hurren on Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - 12:12pm.