Another man’s city by Ch’oe In-Ho

Another man’s city by Ch’oe In-ho

Korean fiction

Original title -Nat Igun t’aindul ui tosi

Translators – Bruce and Ju-chan Fulton

Source – review copy

“City Sickness”

I’m crawling, don’t know where to or from
The centre of things from where everything stems
Is not where I belong
And the city sickness, growing inside me
So this is where I ran for freedom
Where I may not be free

I have these hands beating with love for you
And you’re not here to touch
Sent you away, what else can I do
When I need something that much?
I’m hurting babe, in the city there’s no place for love
It’s just used to make people feel better

I choose the Tinderstick as the mood of this song fitted the book .

Born in Seoul He studied english at university, when he left he started writing publishing his first story in 1967 .Which won a prize, he won a bigger prize with his book Deep blue night. He died two years ago and was remembered a year late when his hand prints were put on a street where he used to drink a lot .I was sent the third set of  library of Korean Literature books the 11- 15 in the series. I read a Pavane for a dead princess and wasn’t bowled over by it I felt it was maybe to Korean for me.But then earlier this year Tony reviewed this book and it made me pick it up .



What the hell? K groped the fuzzy boundary between sleep and wakefulness for an answer – what had awakened him?

His alarm clock. The strident ring a desperate cry letting the world know of its existence. Again the shrill clamor.

Dammit! K didn’t like being woken up. He fumbled at the nightstand found the alarm click, silenced .

He wasn’t fully awake. But he was conscious enough to splice the snapped filmstrip of his interrupted sleep, and he closed his eyes

The opening and a dazed K wakes up , I love that line” snapped filmstrip of his interupted sleep “

Another man’s city should really be subtitled Kafka does Korea . We find K a man who likes a drink that seems to get swallowed into a nightmare version of his hometown Seoul .So over the course of the weekend he has lost a period of time .We follow him as he tries to find what happened in this time. But is this real of a VR world one is never sure if this is the case. It is a shifting world he is in maybe electronic or maybe as he sobers up.

Well thought K, there was that one and half hour gap in the filmstrip of his memory, but he couldn’t recall anything that might have caused a concussion. He hadn’t noticed any marks on his head, no evidence of bleeding, no signs of trauma, no headache .

What happend in the missing reel of his life film,  so to speak ?

I over time have found writers ripple through time and place, the great writers  we all know and love have had a knock effect where it is Kafka who has influenced this writer. This is one of a number of books over the years I have reviewed that have been influenced by Kafka from the obvious books like Claudel’s The investigation through books like Muller’s The appointment. Here Kafka raises his head from the main characters name K to being trapped in a world. I was also reminded of fims like the matrix where the world around the lead character is a shifting one.Then there is the other side of the book the fact K is a drinking from what I can gather the writer himself was a bit of a drinker so may have also experienced lost time which many of us did in our youth but not 99 mins like here alsommaybe in a strange way Withnail and I where the time in the weekend away the spend stretches and shrinks as the weekend goes along .An interesting take on being trapped in a world and not knowing fully where it is .I view this as more a comment on the speed and way of the modern world where every minute is noted these days so losing a chunk of time is unknown now.

Have you read any of the Library of Korean Literature series ?

The hen who dreamed she could fly by Sun – Mi Hwang

The Hen who dreamed she could fly by Sun-Mi Hwang

Korean fiction

Translator – Chi Young Kim

Original title – 마당을 나온 암탉

Source – personnel copy

Make your sail
And every heart will know
Of the tale
Make you tune
For none may sing it
Just as you do

Look at the way I glide
Caught on the wind’s lazy tide
Sweetly how it sings
Rally each heart at the sight
Of you silver wings

I choose Neil Diamonds lyrics from his songs for Jonathan livingstone  seagull

I visit Korea again this woman in translation month . With a best seller in Korea by Sun-Mi Hwang .As a young girl her family couldn’t afford to send her to primary school but thanks to a kind teacher manage to be able to read books after school and got into high school because of this .The book came out in 2000 in Korea and was made into one of the best-selling animated films in Korea also a comic and Musical .

Sprout liked to stare out into the barnyard .She would much rather watch the ducks scuttle away from the dog than peck at feed .Closing her eyes she imagined herself wandering freely about . She fantasized about sitting in a nest on an egg , about venturing into the fields with  the rooster , and about following the ducks around .

THe opening lines and we see how Sprout daydreams .

This book it seems is part of a trend of Korean fiction , like the other book from this genre of Korean fiction I reviewed earlier in the year the salmon who dared to leap higher . These fairy tale / fable tales have a greater meaning under the basic story . So this is well as it says on the tin the story of a Hen her name is sprout .She lives in a farm and is in a cage with other hens laying eggs . But this hen by chance glimpse the outside world and wants to not lay and lose her eggs but also see the wider world beyond the cage . She manages to escape and journey outside to the barn , then she  meets the  ducks .This is where she meets greentop ,whom she adopts greentop is an  orphan duckling , whom she has to help along in life as well as finding her own way in the wider world and does she finally get to fly .

“Baby careful ”

“Mum look where I am !” he waved his little wing joyously . the Lilly pad tipped and he fell into the water .

“Baby ” Sprout panicked ,surprised , Baby flailed about .Sprout ran into the reservoir , but her feathers became waterlogged , and she barely managed to get out .

he motherly instinct comes to the front her to save baby even at the rick of her own life .

I read a lot into this about Korean life in general .I see sprout somewhat as Korea  of today , maybe greentop is North Korea in some way the child you didn’t give birth too but want look after but maybe don’t want to let go off .Sprouts journey could also maybe be seen as Korea own journey into the world and discovering the world after the Korean war . Now that could be me seeing too much into it it could just be a story rather like the kids books like Charlotte’s web or Jonathan Livingstone about someone make the way in the world their own way . You could also connect this in part to the film chicken run which follows a group of chickens as they try to escape by learning to fly .Anyway this is a fun book with some lovely illustrations that the uk publisher commissioned for the book . I managed to find a trailer to the film .


the vegetarian by Han Kang

The vegetarian by Han Kang

korean Fiction

Original title – 채식주의자

Translator – Deborah smith

Source – review copy


Heifer whines could be human cries
closer comes the screaming knife
this beautiful creature must die
this beautiful creature must die
a death for no reason
and death for no reason is MURDER
and the flesh you so fancifully fry
is not succulent, tasty or nice
it is death for no reason
and death for no reason is MURDER
and the calf that you carve with a smile
and the turkey you festively slice

Back when this came out maybe being vegetarian was the same here as it was for Yeong -Hye in Korea .Of course only one lyric for this book Meat is murder by the mighty smiths .

I was sent this just before it came out and I read it back when it came out and was going to review it then , but the day I went to write a post I saw a couple of other people had posted and a few did the next day so rather than be a  small fish in a shoal of fish ,I decided to wait til this month as I thought well I’m sure folks would be interested at the time and a gentle nudge may make a few more people want to read this book .Han Kang Teaches creative writing at Seoul institute of arts and has won a number of prizes in her native Korea incurring the Korean Literature novel award .

Before my wife turned vegetarian .I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way . to be frank , the first time I met her I wasn’t even attracted to her .Middling height ; bobbed hair neither long nor short ; jaundiced , sickly-looking skin ; somewhat prominent cheekbones ; her timid sallow aspect told me all I needed to know .As she came up to the table where I was waiting .I couldn’t help but notice her shoes – the plainest black shoes imaginable ,and that walk of hers – neither fast nor slow , striding not mincing .

Well poor Yeong-Hye her husband didn’t even notice her the first time they met bar her plain shoes .

Well I was excited about this especially after hear a discussion on  trying to find Vegetarian restaurant on the three percent podcast made me aware that there is actually not many vegetarians or a culture of being vegetarian in Korea  so the main decision in this book is a hard one to make .This novel is a trio of stories about one wives Yeong-Hye journey into become vegetarian and how it affects her husband and her sister and brother-in-law the later whom happens to be a video artist and uses Yo=eong-Hye in what are becoming more and more sexual and erotic works of art .All this send this woman into a downward spiral of self-destruction and sees her own sister come near to the edge as well .We see the ripples of this decision to become vegetarian .

“Lie on your side for me ” slowly as though timing her movements to some music only she could hear , she bent her arms legs and waist and rolled onto her side . He panned the camera down the ridge of her side and over the soft curve of her buttocks , then filmed first the flowers  on her back the flowers of night and the the flowers of the sun on her front .

I choose this as it shows Yeong-Hye could be very sensual in another’s eyes

The book is really a study of what happens when one person decides to do something outside society’s norms .The trio of stories  or as I view them myself they are more like a triptych so the in three parts the start middle and end of this breaking of the norms of society . The beginning sees the family coping how families cope , rather extreme at times as she is almost force-fed at some points .The next part sees a woman slowly become alone , but as this happens falling into an unhealthy partnership with the failing artist of a brother-in-law .the last part well I leave that to you to find lout this book is one that ,makes you think what would make people react the way Yeong-Hye family and friends reacted in the uk these days . I’m not sure what but I think if someone say is from a strong religious , cultural background or class the fallout may be the same as in this book . It shows what happens when a person is pushed out .I was reminded of some of the great pieces of central european fiction for example Blaugast , I have read where the story is the flip  and it is a male  perspective  on  being on the outside of society .Also a great translation by Deborah who we all followed on twitter as she did this one of her first translations .I love the cover which you have to look art ever so carefully to fully get !!

Have you read this book or any other korean novel ?

A perfect crime by A Yi

a perfect crime A Yi cover


A perfect crime by A Yi

Chinese fiction

Original title  -Xiamian Wo Gai Ganxie Shenme (下面我该干些什么)

Translator – Anne Holmwood

Source – Review copy



live in a town called Millhaven
And it’s small and it’s mean and it’s cold
But if you come around just as the sun goes down
You can watch the whole town turn to gold
It’s around about then that I used to go a-roaming
Singing La la la la La la la lie
All God’s children they all gotta die

My name is Loretta but I prefer Lottie
I’m closing in on my fifteenth year
And if you think you have seen a pair of eyes more green
Then you sure didn’t see them around here
My hair is yellow and I’m always a-combing
La la la la La la la lie
Mama often told me we all got to die

I choose a murder ballad from Nick Caves murder Ballad album another teenager going round killing people . source 

I said when this one arrived it was the first Chinese novel I had read the blurb of and thought I would like . I’ve not really hate the other Chinese novels I ‘ve read for me they miss what I want to see and that is the experience of living in a mega city or living in a country that is so in flux and yet so traditional in other ways . A Yi was a police officer for five years then turned his hand to writing first as editor at Chutzpah a lit magazine and he then moved to Xiron publishing where he set up a literary imprint “Iron Gourd ” he has written numerous short stories and has his own blog in China .He was on a list of 20 future literary giants in 2010 .

it struck me with an incredible force that she was letting me kill her . It wasn’t my decision to make . She was the one in charge , walking in front of me , leading me up the stairs towards her death .

“Why are you still wearing your cap ?” She said

“It’s part of the plan ” , I said

She didn’t understand , so I repeated . “It’s part of the plan ”

He is rather delude in some ways !!

A perfect crime this isn;t that at all ,of course the perfect crime is the one where the person doing the crime doesn’t get caught ! This book follows one teenager as he kills the Aunt whom he shares the house with and then tries to run away and get away with the crime .He kills her stuffs her in a washing machine and then decides to run . He some how in a country of billions manages to get capture where he is interrogated and sentence by the court  and then … Why did he kill her , why did he run ? The book follows a bleak teen into a bleak world .

My body kept sinking and I had to fight for the right to rest . Sometimes my poor hands would let my feet take the burden , sometimes the other way round .

“I need a pee ” I shouted at one point , the response to which was the sound of clanging from outside and then “go on then ”

In the middle of the interrogation after he is caught .

The book is told in short choppy chapters you see he is a writer that is maybe more at home with a short story eac h chapter is self-contained . Yet tell a part of the whole story  from the early stages to deciding to kill his aunt the killing then we see how he runs off in three chapter then we see the judicial and police process from the teenager view point . The whole story is told in the first person .This shows a brutal crime and the outcome . A Yi style is trimmed and brutal , he hasn’t hidden Chinese  police and justice systems behind rose-coloured glasses , no this shows the brutal nature of justice in China ! Now the cover mentions Kafka , Camus  among others . For me I was reminded of communist writers like Herta Muller a book like the appointment which like this book shows the inner working of the bureaucracy of Communism .But it is also about a world that is being lost clashing culture the aunt generation and the hi speed ,hi tech world of the teenager .A novel that lifts the veil of growing up faceless and in this case nameless in a nameless city that could be any one of a thousand small cities in china !

Have you a favourite Chinese novel ?

Shadow DSC prize winner


Well we have managed to read between Lisa ,Tara and myself to read all the shortlist and in the end had read forurteen books between us at least two or us had read the shortlised books.Not bad as we decide only just before christmas to do a shadow jury .Next year we will be more on the ball .


Shortlisted Authors:

  • Bilal Tanweer: The Scatter Here is Too Great (Vintage Books/Random House, India)
  • Jhumpa Lahiri: The Lowland (Vintage Books/Random House, India)
  • Kamila Shamsie: A God in Every Stone (Bloomsbury, India)    
  • Romesh Gunesekera: Noontide Toll (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, India)       
  • Shamsur Rahman Faruqi: The Mirror of Beauty (Penguin Books, India)

So we weight up the list which for me was very strong a couple of writers quite well known , one truly epic novel , one new name to me at least and a short story collection from a writer I really like .So i just managed to finish the fifthn book last night and have two more to review , so thankfully the winner we choose was a book I have reviewed .

the mirror of beauty

We have chosen the Mirror of beauty for the first shadow DSC prize and it is the Epic The mirror of beauty by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi .I had this down as a favourite when the list came out as I had read the book before it came out here back in 2013 when the book had come out in Inida  here is my review .The book takes the life of the  mother of the poet Dagh , his mother Wazir Khanam life touches many in Mughal indian and we get a slice of the world at this time is this epic novel .We must also mention that it was run close in the shadow jury by Noontide toll  , we just felt this was maybe a book that lasts longer in the readers mind and soul .

have you read any books from the list ? would you like to take part next year?

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