An oblique, hard-edged novel tinged with offbeat fantasy, One Hundred Shadows is set in a slum electronics market in central Seoul – an area earmarked for demolition in a city better known for its shiny skyscrapers and slick pop videos. Here, the awkward, tentative relationship between Eungyo and Mujae, who both dropped out of formal education to work as repair-shop assistants, is made yet more uncertain by their economic circumstances, while their matter-of-fact discussion of a strange recent development – the shadows of the slum’s inhabitants have started to ‘rise’ – leaves the reader to make up their own mind as to the nature of this shape-shifting tale.
Hwang’s spare prose is illuminated by arresting images, quirky dialogue and moments of great lyricism, crafting a deeply affecting novel of perfectly calibrated emotional restraint. Known for her interest in social minorities, Hwang eschews the dreary realism usually employed for such issues, without her social criticism being any less keen. As well as an important contribution to contemporary working-class literature, One Hundred Shadows depicts the little-known underside of a society which can be viciously superficial, complicating the shiny, ultra-modern face which South Korea presents to the world.
This is another book I picked up for the #Readtheworldathon, this one for the “short hop” square. I’ve actually already read a book from South Korea recently but I didn’t let that stop me as it sounded so interesting.
This is a short novella primarily focused on the interactions between Eungyo and Mujae and so it’s hard to really give a review as there is nothing that jumps out at you as instead it’s just a beautiful journey with excellent prose in a very fluid, lyrical format. It’s focused heavily on the small details of life rather than big overarching plots which I really enjoyed and in particular it was a great way to see glimpses of South Korean culture.
As this is such a quick read, it’s something I would recommend to everybody wanting to expand their horizons and read more translated literature. It’s a fantastic look at the lives of two everyday people and yet is so much more than that.
2 thoughts on “Book Review – One Hundred Shadows by Hwang Jungeun”
This one sounds good. I love the idea of the exploration of the superficiality of the society. It’s interesting when you think about it, South Korea is one of the top (if not the top) countries for plastic surgery! They’re also one of the top countries in suicides. Appearances (not only looks but how you conduct yourself and live your life, the achievements and mistakes) seem to mean a lot within the culture. I think I’ll have to check this one out. Thanks for the review!
Good choice for the book!
Have you also checked out The Impossible Fairytale?
It’s published by the same company (deborah smith’s company). She’s the translator who translated the Man Booker prize winning Vegetarian by Han Kang.
If you wanna talk more Korean Literature, why no check out the new subeddit: