Our Happy Time – Gong Ji-Young

April 24, 2017 § 3 Comments

First published in the Korean in 2005
Translated into the English by Sora Kim-Russell in 2014

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I had started this book right after I came back from New Zealand. I was fresh from reading two books that were somehow related to North Korea, and had realised at that time that I hadn’t actually read any books by South Korean authors. I think I have three or four sitting at home, and just picked this one out at random as a first.

The author tells a tale of a woman, Yujeong, who has unsuccessfully attempted suicide for the third time. Her uncle, who’s a psychiatrist, insists that she should attend sessions, just to talk, or get better. Her aunt, a nun, offers her an out. Yujeong can skip those “therapy sessions” with her uncle, if she’ll follow her to the prison every once a week, to visit death-row convicts. The book focuses on one of these convicts, Yunsu, and how Yujeong’s life changed after having met him.

To start, I really liked the premise. I like my books dark.

Yet, here’s the thing. The book came across as somewhat… preachy.

It had its moments, of course. There were parts where I felt like I could relate, or where I would try to pry the character into revealing more to me. But halfway through the book, I started to lose interest in them. It was almost as if I didn’t care if he did what he was accused of, or if I guessed correctly what had happened to her, or even if there would be a miracle and he would not be executed.

I hate it when I don’t care about the characters.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s just my problem. That maybe I’ve grown colder, somehow. That maybe I had chipped away the pieces of me that could empathise with another’s plight.

I don’t know.

But still. I had started reading this book way before I read Snow Country and Perfume. And I usually finish one book before starting on the next. Yet, I paused in between, and picked another to read. Then another. And both books were absolutely beautiful. Stunning. Breathtaking. They grabbed me by my heartstrings and flung me around. This book did none of that sort.

I’m underwhelmed, to say the least.

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