I can remember reading, some handful of years ago as a new parent, books on the philosophy of raising a family. One of the interesting points I came across in a book written by someone from France is that our stress here in America was one of worry. With so few doing exceedingly well in top positions, parenting (if you weren’t born into wealth or fame) becomes a race to get your child the most accolades, the most help, the most trophies, the best schools in order to secure their spot in society. You must do everything right, or else.
Imagine that x10. And you have the premise for the struggles of “Everything Belongs To Us”.
A portrait of three (technically four, but we know so little about the fourth that I’m calling it three) South Korean students during 1978-shortly after the Korean war. With a backdrop of economic and political uncertainty, securing your spot in the world becomes even more important, and each main character is a student at the top university.
Namin is from a very poor family, her sister was unable to attend any schooling in order to sacrifice so Namin could succeed. And, it’s heartbreaking. She aims to pull her family out of the clutches of poverty, and it makes her more driven to the track of academic success than any of the others. Failure is not an option for Namin.
Jisun was born a wealthy daughter to an overbearing businessman who intends to groom her, the stronger of his two children, to run his family business. She’s far more interested in social movements for equality. Hardly attending classes, Jisun is involved in helping underground groups fighting for workers’ rights. She’s playful, it often feels like Jisun can afford to be and Namin can not. Jisun has to constantly battle the idea that she is not serious about what she cares about because of her station in life, even when she renounces it.
Jisun and Namin are friends from childhood, but to say Namin considers Jisun a friend in any respect is stretching it. While it’s understandable, to have all that resentment for someone born into the power you need but doesn’t desire it, it makes Namin hard to like.
Sunam is one of the male characters who enters into a relationship with Namin (though this seems stretched too, as if Namin has no room in her life for people, and consequently he begins to connect with Jisun). Most of his desire seems to revolve around advancing his station in life. He was born into middle-class comfort: nothing as dramatic as the story of the two girls.
Our other male character is Juno, who really I feel we know far less about, is a “bigger brother” from a university social club that hazed Sunam. Juno’s focus is on getting an easier life-specifically by attempting to get Jisun’s affection and marry into money. He’s slimy, he’s cruel, Juno just kind of sucks. I’d say it was a flat character, but we all kind of know someone who’s dipped in that much suck in real life.
The story of how each of these people navigates life choices doesn’t sound like some epic tale, and it’s not. It isn’t that sort of book. It’s a character-based plot.
But it’s still nice and interesting, with very vivid details. If you like contemporary fiction in which there is a lot at stake, you will enjoy this. I found it really fascinating to look into a different culture and find how similar to any university this feels. “Everything Belongs To Us” is a laid back read, but one that will make you think, really think, about how people’s backgrounds have shaped their choices.
And it makes you realize that in the grand scheme of happiness, much of this stuff does not matter.