Book Review: Ahn Do-hyun — The Salmon Who Dared to Leap Higher

by Philip Gowman on 28 November, 2015

in Book Reviews, Korean literature in translation

The Salmon coverAhn Do-hyun: The Salmon Who Dared to Leap Higher
Panmacmillan 2015, 122pp
Translated by Deborah Smith
Originally published as 연어, Munhakdongne, 1996.
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Ahn Do-hyun is a bestselling poet and this is his first novel to be translated into English.

The English title for this translation is an interesting one – clearly echoing the English title of the popular novel by Hwang Sun-mi (The hen who dreamed she could fly). The original Korean title, simply “The Salmon” might sound a little dull by comparison, but it is probably a better title than that chosen by the English publisher. Indeed, in a short introductory chapter, the author explains that the novel is a re-work of a magazine piece he wrote entitled How to enjoy salmon fishing. And, he says of the revised story, “I gave it a simpler title” – the English title chosen by the publishers hardly fits this description.

The SalmonTogether with the lovely cover art of Hokusai-like waves and a salmon leaping clear of their crests, the English title conjures up expectations of a fable of a salmon who wants to break away from the confines and conformity of the shoal and and achieve something on his own. Maybe a tale to promote individualism as superior to the communal approach. Yes, the central character in the story is indeed different – the only completely silver salmon in a shoal of fish whose darker coloured backs make them less conspicuous to predators above the water. But this charming story of love, learning and growth is more subtle than that. It teaches us many lessons, about the circle of life, the interconnectedness of animals and nature, the need to care for the environment, and that the easy way is not necessarily the best way.

Recommended as a pleasant read on a short flight – it takes not much more than an hour to read. The translation reads naturally.

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