Unnie by Yun-Yun
Libre Books, April 2024
On the morning of April 16, 2014, a passenger ferry carrying 476 people was en route from Incheon, South Korea to the island of Jeju. After a dangerous turn against a strong current, the boat began to capsize, with hundreds trapped inside.
The sinking would take the lives of 306 passengers, including 250 schoolchildren and 11 teachers from the outskirts of Seoul onboard for a field trip. The excessive death toll has been largely attributed to the failure of the Korean Coast Guard to mobilize sufficiently, leading to a highly publicized court case and jail time for members of the crew, who abandoned the ship and all aboard.
The tragedy caused public outcry around the world. But none were so bereft as the families left behind, like the main character, Yun-young. As the days turn into weeks and the weeks turn into months, they wait for news of Yun-young’s Unnie (the Korean word for “older sister”), a teacher now missing. As Yun-young embarks on an unfamiliar journey to understand Unnie’s life, she finds herself entangled in a blend of memories and unforeseen revelations, stirring an irresistible yearning. From Korea to America and back again, past and present overlap, as Yun-young tries to piece together the life of her enigmatic older sister.
“I’m a high school teacher in Korea,” writes author Yun-Yun. “At times, when I observe my students immersed in laughter with their peers, I feel a sudden wave of sadness, reminded of all the young lives taken away too soon. I imagine they, too, would have laughed just like that. Writing Unnie, my first novel, I was surprised at how easily the words flowed from me. To this day, I can’t shake the feeling that the lost students were guiding me as I wrote.”
Originally published in 2022, this edition is revised and re-released in honor of the 10-year anniversary of the event.