It’s winter in Sokcho, a tourist town on the border between South and North Korea. The cold slows everything down. Bodies are red and raw, the fish turn venomous, beyond the beach guns point out from the North’s watchtowers. A young French Korean woman works as a receptionist in a tired guesthouse. One evening, an unexpected guest arrives: a French cartoonist determined to find inspiration in this desolate landscape. The two form an uneasy relationship. When she agrees to accompany him on trips to discover an “authentic” Korea, they visit snowy mountaintops and dramatic waterfalls, and cross into North Korea. But he takes no interest in the Sokcho she knows—the gaudy neon lights, the scars of war, the fish market where her mother works. As she’s pulled into his vision and taken in by his drawings, she strikes upon a way to finally be seen. An exquisitely-crafted debut, which won the Prix Robert Walser, Winter in Sokcho is a novel about shared identities and divided selves, vision and blindness, intimacy and alienation. Elisa Shua Dusapin’s voice is distinctive and unmistakable.

Here’s what the National Book Award judges had to say:

This spare and visceral novel evokes the atmosphere of abandonment and isolation as well as the stark beauty of winter in a provincial South Korean seaside resort town near the North Korean border. Narrated by a sharply observant young French Korean resident, the story explores rifts of identity—personal, cultural, and national—and the fleeting kinship that is possible between solitary strangers. Aneesa Abbas Higgins’s elegant translation brings out the lyricism of Elisa Shua Dusapin’s tender and mysterious novel.


Elisa Shua Dusapin was born in France in 1992 and raised in Paris, Seoul, and Switzerland. Winter in Sokcho is her first novel, and was awarded the Prix Robert Walser and the Prix Régine Desforges and has been translated into six languages.


Aneesa Abbas Higgins has translated books by Vénus Khoury-Ghata, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Ali Zamir, and Nina Bouraoui. Seven Stones by Vénus Khoury-Ghata won the Scott Moncrieff Prize, and both A Girl Called Eel by Ali Zamir and What Became of the White Savage by François Garde won PEN Translates awards.

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Watch Elisa Shua Dusapin & Aneesa Abbas Higgins read an excerpt from Winter in Sokcho at the (virtual) 2021 National Book Awards

Watch Elisa Shua Dusapin & Aneesa Abbas Higgins accept an award at the (virtual) 2021 National Book Awards