BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Familiar Things by Sok-yong Hwang, translated by Sora Kim-Russell [in Booklist]

Toughened by a nickname thrown at him by a policeman threatening punishment, Bugeye arrives on Flower Island – an ironic name for the vast city dump on the outskirts of Seoul – with his mother, who works as a garbage picker. His father is missing, and at 13, Bugeye has long quit school to help supplement his mother’s erratic income.

Parent and child quickly integrate into their surprisingly well-organized and regulated community. Bugeye even reluctantly accepts a family-of-sorts, including a younger brother who shows Bugeye a world he shouldn’t be able to see.

Internationally award-winning Korean author Hwang (The Ancient Garden, 2010) presents a seemingly simple coming-of-age story about two brothers-by-circumstance-rather-than-blood. Woven into their familial struggles, clubhouse adventures, and city forays, however, is a potent, haunting parable about the mindlessly disposable nature of modern society, about how quickly all “familiar things,” even relationships, can grow into a festering island of relentless waste while survival ultimately depends on salvaging anything that might prove useful.

Galvanized by Nobel Prize-winner Kenzaburō Ōe’s resounding endorsement – “undoubtedly the most powerful voice in Asia today” – and master translator Sora Kim-Russell’s exquisite rendition, Hwang’s latest import is surely poised for Western success.

Review: “Fiction,” Booklist, April 1, 2018

Readers: Adult

Published: 2018 (United States)


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