There are some books that are breathtaking from cover to cover, written so poetically and uniquely that you just smile to open them. This import from South Korea is one of those books. Be charmed by I Am The Subway by Kim Hyo-eun, published in the US in 2021.
The book opens with end papers that show the Seoul subway crossing a river – one of the longest subways in the world. It is a beautiful watercolor scene, delicately drawing you into the story.
“I pull into a station
and those who were sleeping startle awake.
Is this your stop? It’s time to get off!”
With each turn of the page, the subway introduces you to a passenger getting onto the train. We hear and see a tiny bit of their story, from Mr. Wanju who races to catch the train, Granny carrying some fresh fish to her daughter and granddaughter, Yu-seon and her little ones tired from a busy day, and many many more.
They are “busy hearts” as the train affectionately calls them as it carries them faithfully and carefully along its route.
The train wonders about each one, how they are and what they have been doing.
The train fills, running its “big ring around the city of Seoul each day, sending people off and welcoming them on.”
“So many people and things… are all around you, every time you take the train.”
I love this book so so much. When I spotted it and added it to our holds list at the library, I falsely assumed it was a book about the NYC subway. Not surprising, considering we live in NYC and are most familiar with it. I was thrilled to discover it was actually about the Seoul subway network. But the emotions and thoughts of the subway resonate with how I feel about our daily subway rides and what I also imagine the NYC trains, or any public transit, would think about its passengers. It is a delightful concept, examining its passengers and tenderly caring about them as it transports them throughout their day.
I also love Kim Hyo-eun’s illustrations so much! They are beautiful and detailed in such a gentle way. They feel soft and muted. It is a remarkable feat to illustrate the subway in so many pages without it becoming dull and boring. It helps to have every other spread be about a passenger – where they are coming from in the city. This is such a beautiful portrayal of everyday life in Seoul.
I hope you’ll grab this book and ponder your daily commute from a new perspective as well. It’s a lovely book to behold.