The Naked Tree

Drawn & Quarterly. Aug. 2023. 316p. adapted by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim. tr. from Korean by Janet Hong. ISBN 9781770466678. pap. $29.95. F
Lee Kyeonga, a young woman living with her taciturn mother in Seoul during the Korean War, does her best to get by. She works in an American Military Post Exchange, managing a team of amateur painters who create portraits on handkerchiefs for soldiers to buy as souvenirs. When a moody, mysterious young man joins their team, she’s taken with his talent and his barely concealed melancholy. A tenuous friendship between the pair offers a glimpse of life beyond her purgatorial day-to-day, if only in that she’s able to form a connection to someone else’s existential dis-ease. So much of this flowing, poetic graphic novel remains unspoken, an impossible longing for escape—from wartime, from economic paralysis, from a home haunted by a family tragedy hinted at and ultimately gut-wrenchingly revealed in the book’s final act, from a young adulthood empty of romantic love. Gendry-Kim’s (The Waiting) expert translation, from the original novel penned in 1970 to the graphic form, often focuses on simplified faces in tense dialogues, but what lingers are images of small figures plodding through dark, snowy nights and the contours of an empty, echoing family home.
VERDICT A murmured wartime memory that speaks volumes about the difficult depths of the solitary human condition.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing