On Writing “Victoria Falls Hotel,” by Reese Okyong Kwon

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Reese Okyong Kwon’s story, “Victoria Falls Hotel,” appears in our Winter 2012/13 issue, edited by Ladette Randolph and John Skoyles.

I first came across a mention of the Korean phenomenon of fake funerals on Alexander Chee’s excellent blog, Koreanish. The idea stayed with me, and I started to wonder how and why a parent would stage a funeral for his or her child, and what that kind of desperation might look like. This, for me, is one of the great joys of fiction, the insight it provides into other people’s minds—and finally, one day, a woman appeared in my head, full of explanations. She wanted to tell me why she and her husband had faked their son’s funeral, and what she had and hadn’t done to try to repair the harm she’d caused.

But her explanations were full of evasions; her justifications were also admissions of guilt. This paradoxical woman became Euna Han, the central character of “Victoria Falls Hotel.” Maybe because I’ve been working on a novel about religious terrorists, I’ve become increasingly interested in the kind of wrongdoing that wants to believe in its own rightness. Of course, this is true of a lot of wrongdoing; most of us, in the stories we tell ourselves about our lives, are not so bad. In Euna’s mind, she’s trying to do her best, just as her husband Jin, in his mind, is trying to do his best. “Victoria Falls Hotel” takes place in the gap between what they think is their best and what else might be possible.