Sae, former journalist turned a young mother of two in 1992 Seoul, is waiting for her husband, an engineer for a small construction company. He’s late. A neighbor rushes down with the news: a high-rise downtown has collapsed, trapping hundreds inside—the same high-rise that Sae’s husband is working.
That disaster, which parallels the real-life Sampoong Department Store collapse in 1995, starts the story of Hannah Michell’s novel Excavations. Sae and the book’s other characters try to uncover the mystery of why this high-rise, the jewel of Seoul’s skyline, unexpectedly collapsed–—and who might be to blame.
In this interview, Hannah and I talk about the Sampoong Department Store and how it parallels her novel, and what current-day events inspired the development of her book.
Hannah Michell grew up in Seoul. She studied anthropology and philosophy at Cambridge University and now lives in California with her husband and children. She teaches in the Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies Program at the University of California, Berkeley. You can follow her on Instagram at @_hannahmichell.