Tuesday 14 November 2023

Book Review: One Hundred Shadows by Hwang Jung-eun (Magical Realism)

Title: One Hundred Shadows
Author: Hwang Jung-eun
Publisher: Erewhon Books
Publication Date: 23 July 2024
Pages: 192
Format: eBook - PDF
Genre: Magical Realism
Source: ARC via Edelweiss

Han Kang’s Human Acts meets Yōko Ogawa’s The Memory Police in this understated South Korean novella in a restrained yet emotional magical realist examination of futility in a capitalist society written in response to the 2009 Yongsan Disaster.

In a Seoul slum marked for demolition, residents’ shadows have begun to rise. No one knows how or why–but, they warn each other, do not follow your shadow if it wanders away.

As the landscape of their lives is torn apart, building by building, electronics-repair-shop employees Eungyo and Mujae can only watch as their community begins to fade. Their growing connection with one another provides solace, but against an uncaring ruling class and the inevitability of the rising shadows, their relationship may not be enough.

Winner of the Hankook Ilbo Literary Award and the Korean Bookseller’s Award,
One Hundred Shadows is a tender working-class perspective with subtle and affecting social commentary. This edition features an introduction by Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Vegetarian , Han Kang, a historical note about the Yongsan tragedy that inspired One Hundred Shadows, and an exclusive interview with the author.

One Hundred Shadows was a deeply atmospheric story. The prose was deceptively simple, but the themes and metaphors packed quite the punch. Knowing the real-life incident that inspired this story adds further layers of meaning to the text. This is a book that is about a situation, a pondering, so don't go into it expecting a story with a distinct beginning, middle and end, as it's really more of a meditation, the elements of magical realism giving an otherworldly feel to the harsh reality the characters are facing. I think some readers might struggle with that, especially if they are unfamiliar with the background story that led to the book's creation. It's one of those books where you can feel enjoyment and interest reading it, but when you close the final page you wonder what exactly it was you just read. I found it a fascinating piece on the whole, though, and I am giving it four stars.

I received this book as a free eBook ARC via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

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