Book Review – Familiar Things by Hwang Sok-yong

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Seoul. On the outskirts of South Korea’s glittering metropolis is a place few people know about: a vast landfill site called Flower Island. Home to those driven from the city by poverty, is it here that 14-year-old Bugeye and his mother arrive, following his father’s internment in a government ‘re-education camp’.

Living in a shack and supporting himself by weeding recyclables out of the refuse, at first Bugeye’s life on Flower Island is hard. But then one night he notices mysterious lights around the landfill. And when the ancient spirits that still inhabit the island’s landscape reveal themselves to him, Bugeye’s luck begins to change – but can it last?

Vibrant and enchanting, Familiar Things depicts a society on the edge of dizzying economic and social change, and is a haunting reminder to us all to be careful of what we throw away.

Review:

So, I recently got back from a short trip to Seoul and so naturally it was the perfect opportunity to read a book from South Korea for my “Read Around the World” challenge. I picked this book simply because it was also set in Seoul and was short enough I’d be able to read it while on my trip without taking away too much time from exploring.

Although the book is set on a trash island near Seoul, there is very little focus on Seoul itself and indeed could be set almost anywhere. You only know it’s Seoul due to the references to Korean culture which gives the story a certain charm.

The plot of the story is very simple, Bugeye and his mother have moved to Flower Island where she works as a trash picker and the story follows Bugeye as he adapts to his new living situation. However, the simplicity is what makes this story so magical – we’re reading about some people who were down on their luck and how they cope with their new life. There is some magic in the book with spirits that Bugeye meets and this, along with the new friends he meets, helps him grow.

This story was not what I was expecting, but it was delightful all the same. It’s a simple yet charming story that is beautifully written (and beautifully translated) and was an absolute joy to read.

If you’re looking for a short read to diversify your reading then this is definitely a book I’d recommend. If you’re looking for exciting fast-paced novels it’s probably not for you, but I’d suggest giving it a chance anyway, the slow relaxed pace is very enjoyable.

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