'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 14 October 2021

Review: I am the Subway

As I write this review, I am the Subway wins the Children’s Book Award at the prestigious World Illustration Awards in London.

Translated from Korean by Booker International winner, Deborah Smith, this exquisite, best-selling picture book written and illustrated by Kim Hyo-eun, described as a cinematic journey, looks at the lives of people seen through the eyes and voice of a Seoul subway train.

This unique approach allows us to observe the familiar patterns of humanity; thoughts, dreams, and habits of the subway’s daily commuters and their repetitious journeys.

A brief introduction shares the history of the Seoul subway which 7.2 million people use every day, on the city lines alone. The subway network is the longest in the world. This is set in a corner against an opaque view of the Han River and the bridge above.

People move from one place to another. The same passengers wait at the same stop at the same time every day. The train travels the same route, that crosses the bridge over the Han.

Passengers nod off but quickly open their eyes to check the station when the train comes to a halt. Mr Wanju races down the escalators as the doors open at Hapjeong station. He is always running. He breathes deeply as he checks the time.

City Hall is next. An elderly lady boards carrying seafood. Through a change of font in italics she describes a life full of challenges, and her family for whom she has shopped.

Two new passengers enter at the following stop. A frazzled woman is dragging a child that can’t keep up. Her chaotic life is set out in pictures scattered across two pages. She has raised her children. Now she is raising her grandchildren.

The man with the shiny shoes and the proud walk steps on. I can tell so much about a person just by looking at their shoes. The subway offers up a reflective monologue about the many kinds of shoes, the shape they are in and the people who wear them.

There is the salesman with his trolley full of merchandise. He spruiks while the train is moving. Here is Lee Do-Young with the special name chosen by his father. A student sags, overwhelmed by her study schedule and the constant rush to fit it all in.

The afternoon trip is identical. It is all about the unique lives of strangers you might never meet again, that are all around you every time you take the train.

With echoes of Korean cinema style, this book captures the ordinary of each day. The exquisite illustrations are created in watercolour. This is a book not to be missed.

Title: I am the Subway
Author/Illustrator: Kim Hyo-eun
Publisher: Scribble, $ 27.99
Publication Date: 1 September 2021
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781922310514
For ages: 6+
Type: Picture Book