Oh Jung-hee: The Bird

Oh Jung-hee: The BirdTelegram Books, 2007
Originally published as 새, 2003
Translated by Jenny Wang Medina

Another of those enigmatic, slightly depressing modern Korean novels which causes you to have sympathy with the large number of Koreans who are turning to Japanese novels for their entertainment.

Set during the mid 90s economic slump, the story chronicles the lives of a 12-year-old girl and her younger brother, growing up in poverty in a provincial Korean town. Their father, a violent construction worker, drove away their mother by his abusive behaviour, and does the same to a subsequent live-in girlfriend. They live in a rented room surrounded by peculiar neighbours: a fugitive from the law, an effeminate jazz clarinettist and his paralysed wife, and a married couple of which the man looks suspiciously like a woman. When the father stops coming home these neighbours, along with a well-meaning social worker and a blind unlicensed acupuncturist become the children’s extended family, though the sister is in control. If the above sounds a bit like some of the bizarre characters you’ll find in a Murakami novel, that’s where the similarity ends. Nothing much happens, and the book has an inconclusive ending, though you can tell that the two are on a downward spiral. Not a book to read for pleasure, though some reviewers have found it poetic:

A magical concoction of fairy tale and poem … delights with its imagery and the spirit of its characters

writes Polly Clark, while Tobias Hill comments:

Delicate, understated writing that finds the extraordinary in the ordinary.

LKL says: Avoid, unless you need an antidote for feeling too happy.


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