Hwang Sok-yong: The Guest

Hwang Sok-yong: The Guest(Seven Stories, 2005)
Translated by Chun Kyung-ja and Maya West
Originally published as 손님, Seoul 2001

The Guest of the title is an unwelcome foreigner: originally applied to smallpox, it is used by extension to cover the cultural imports of communism and Christianity. The theme of the book is that until the ghosts of the past are allowed to tell their story they cannot be laid to rest. The story centres on an incident during the Korean war, in the north, where the divisions in time of civil strife led to atrocities: and the atrocities, blamed in the official narrative on the Americans in order to conceal the real truth and thus make the memories more bearable, are in fact all the more horrific because they are committed by Korean on Korean, neighbour on neighbour. The book itself claims to be written as a shamanistic exorcism ritual but the structure does not impose itself on the story. Altogether a highly involving read.


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