[Introduction] Quest for Identity in In Search of Lost G
- onDecember 21, 2017
- Vol.38 Winter 2017
- byKim Seong-Kon
- In Search of Lost G
The protagonist of Kim Kyung Hyun’s In Search of Lost G is a middle-aged Korean American professor, Kyung Hoon, also known as “Kyun,” who ultimately rediscovers his own lost identity while searching for his nephew Gee Hoon, aka G, who has gone missing from a private high school on the East Coast of the United States that Kyun also attended a long time ago.
While pursuing his missing nephew, Kyung looks back on his first day at school in the States when he was asked to write his name on the board. He was so nervous and timid that he got only as far as “Kyun” before the bell rang and was unable to add “g” at the end. And so he was known as Kyun ever after. Suddenly, he realizes that his search for his nephew G is closely intertwined with his search for his own lost name and identity.
The mesmerizing story unfolds as Kyung, like the protagonist in Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” receives an urgent message from his cousin Young-mi in Seoul, asking for his help to find her missing son, G. Kyung flies back to his alma mater and learns that G has eloped with Paige, his pregnant girlfriend. Together with Young-mi and Paige’s grandfather, Thomas, Kyung sets out on a cross-country journey searching for G and Paige.
In Korean, “G” (jwi) means “a mouse.” Interestingly, a mouse (as in Mickey Mouse) is also a popular symbol of America. Perhaps, then, it may not be too far-fetched to say that while looking for G, Kyung seems to search not only for his Korean identity but also his American identity. The mouse is also a vital device with which we control our computers. Searching for lost G, then, is searching for his ability to control his life in a new and unfamiliar, if not hostile, environment called America.
While searching for G, Kyung encounters Aryn who, unlike him, voluntarily dropped the “g” from her name, Aryung, in order to make it sound more American. Aryn comes to the States but takes the wrong path and ends up being a junkie and prostitute. Kyung realizes that G and Aryn’s lives are what his own life would have been like if, like them, he had chosen a wrong path.
The reader of In Search of Lost G finds generational conflicts in the novel. Young-mi initially wants Paige to have an abortion but later changes her mind. While studying at Syracuse, Young-mi herself had fallen in love with a married American professor. When she became pregnant, she decided to have an abortion, give up her career and return to South Korea. Young-mi now realizes that she cannot let her son make the same mistake. Thomas, too, initially wants Paige to have an abortion but gives up the idea later. Both Young-mi and Thomas come to realize that things have changed. They now live in an age of transnationalism and hybrid cultures that embrace interracial marriage and biracial children.
In Search of Lost G is a serious novel, and yet it is a page-turner, full of hilarious humor, superb parody, and poignant satire. In it the reader can find not only the American spirit of travel and adventure, but also the Korean sentiment of family ties and values. It is in this sense that In Search of Lost G reminds the reader of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. It also brings to mind the road movie Rain Man, in which the protagonist Charlie Babbitt, just like Kyung, finds during his cross-country journey what he has lost while pursuing money and success.
In Search of Lost G is indeed a tour-de-force, a splendid accomplishment embodying transnationalism. At the end, Kyung realizes that like the Blue Bird in Maeterlinck’s play of the same name, “G” has been there in plain sight all these years. All he had to do was to find it. And find it he does.
by Kim Seong-Kon
Prize-winning literary critic
Professor Emeritus, Seoul National University