At Dusk won Hwang Sok-yong the Emile Guimet Prize for Asian Literature.
At Dusk Synopsis:
In the evening of his life, a wealthy man begins to wonder if he might have missed the point.
Park Minwoo is, by every measure, a success story. Born into poverty in a miserable neighbourhood of Seoul, he has ridden the wave of development in a rapidly modernising society. Now the director of a large architectural firm, his hard work and ambition have brought him triumph and satisfaction. But when his company is investigated for corruption, he’s forced to reconsider his role in the transformation of his country.
At the same time, he receives an unexpected message from an old friend, Cha Soona, a woman that he had once loved, and then betrayed. As memories return unbidden, Minwoo recalls a world he thought had been left behind — a world he now understands that he has helped to destroy.
From one of Korea’s most renowned and respected authors, At Dusk is a gentle yet urgent tale about the things, and the people, that we give up in our never-ending quest to move forward.
Translated by Sora Kim-Russell
(Scribe Publications, October 2018)
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I greatly admired the artistry and power of Hwang Yok-song’s Familiar Things (trans. 2017) so was keen to read the next work of his that Scribe Publications have released in English.
While abuses of power in society, the flight of people from country to city and plight of those that eked out an existence in the slums and shanty towns of Seoul is again key subject matter, At Dusk spans a broader timeframe and is far more grounded in reality than Familiar Things (i.e. no folklore).
In juxtaposing the lives and experiences of two seemingly disparate individuals – a wealthy man late in life (a boy from the slums ostensibly made good) and a modern young woman struggling for traction at the bottom of the ladder (the next generation) – Hwang Sok-yong highlights how on the surface much has changed but underneath societal issues are recurring.
Is a barely affordable mould-ridden basement flat in a modern building so different from a slum? Is fulfilment in work, and in life, a luxury out of reach?
Back then, I’d decided that I could not trust the world or other people. After a while, being ambitious means having to sift out the few values we feel like keeping and toss the rest, or twist them to suit ourselves. Even the tiny handful of values that remain just get stuffed into the attic of memory, like some old thing bought and used up long ago. What are buildings made of? In the end, money and power. They alone decide which memories will take shape and survive.
Separation from family, critical illness of past acquaintances and mysterious communications from a girl he grew up with in the slums, are the catalyst for a late-in-life awakening and reflection for Park Minwoo.
But what elevates this work, is how the gritty psychological exploration of contemporary Korean society is packaged within a taut and compelling mystery regarding how the two disparate narratives might be connected.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5 — Overall 4.25
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Genre: Literature, Drama, Translation
This review counts towards my participation in the 2018 New Release Challenge.
About the Author, Hwang Sok-yong
Hwang Sok-yong was born in 1943 and is arguably Korea’s most renowned author. In 1993, he was sentenced to seven years in prison for an unauthorised trip to the North to promote exchange between artists in the two Koreas. Five years later, he was released on a special pardon by the new president. The recipient of Korea’s highest literary prizes, he has been shortlisted for the Prix Femina Etranger and was awarded the Emile Guimet Prize for Asian Literature for his book At Dusk. His novels and short stories are published in North and South Korea, Japan, China, France, Germany, and the United States. Previous novels include The Ancient Garden, The Story of Mister Han, The Guest, Princess Bari and The Shadow of Arms.
Translator, Sora Kim-Russell
Sora Kim-Russell is a poet and translator, originally from California and now living in Seoul, South Korea. She teaches at Ewha Woman’s University.
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* My receiving a copy of At Dusk from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.