BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Cabinet by Un-su Kim, translated by Sean Lin Halbert [in Booklist]

Kong Deok-geun is an “average administrative worker,” a position for which he surpassed 137 applicants for “a job that has no work.” His boredom, so severe that he’s named it “I-would-rather-eat-dog-treats-than-suffer-this-boredom,” sends him to the fourth floor, where he discovers Cabinet 13, then spends an entire week methodically cycling through 10,000 combinations to open the four-digit lock.

The 375 files within are the lifework of acerbic, dying Professor Kwon, who eventually, inexplicably names Kong as his successor. Kwon’s collected research is on all manner of “symptomers,” people who “exist between the humans of today and the humans of the future.” Some survive by consuming inedibles – gas, glass, steel, newspapers. Some are “torporers” and lose time. Some deal with doppelgängers or separated-twin souls. Some are “chimera,” with a ginkgo tree embedded in a finger, a lizard for a tongue. The latter group will provoke less-than-friendly outside interest that will threaten Kong’s future forever.

Deftly translated by award-winning Sean Lin Halbert, Un-su Kim’s latest import (after the irresistible The Plotters2019) again showcases his sly, surreal, dark humor about all the ways humans are, well, not particularly human.

Review: “Fiction,” Booklist, September 1, 2021

Readers: Adult

Published: 2006 (Korea), 2021 (United States)


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