Translated by: Sora Kim-Russell
Publisher: Periscope, 2015.
Link to online store *
In a drab North Korean city, a seventh daughter is born to a couple longing for a son. Abandoned hours after her birth, she is eventually rescued by her grandmother. The old woman names the child Bari, after a legend telling of a forsaken princess who undertakes a quest for an elixir that will bring peace to the souls of the dead. As a young woman, frail, brave Bari escapes North Korea and takes refuge in China before embarking on a journey across the ocean in the hold of a cargo ship, seeking a better life. She lands in London, where she finds work as a masseuse. Paid to soothe her clients aching bodies, she discovers that she can ease their more subtle agonies as well, having inherited her beloved grandmother s uncanny ability to read the pain and fears of others. Bari makes her home amongst other immigrants living clandestinely. She finds love in unlikely places, but also suffers a series of misfortunes that push her to the limits of sanity. Yet she has come too far to give in to despair… Princess Bari is a captivating novel that leavens the grey reality of cities and slums with the splendour of fable. Hwang Sok-yong has transfigured an age-old legend and made it vividly relevant to our own times.
Hwang is known for his novels which have modern Korean history as their backdrop. This is one which has a broader backdrop – the geopolitics behind 9/11 and London’s 7/7 – as well as the harsh realities of the lives of refugees who escape North Korea and perhaps is thus an ideal introduction to this author for British readers who have not encountered him before.
* Where the book is available from a number of sources, they are prioritised as follows: (1) Amazon UK site, or Bookshop.org for the more recent uploads (2) Amazon US site (3) Other sites in US or Europe, including second-hand outlets (4) LTI Korea, where the title is advertised as available from there (5) Onlines stores in Korea. Links to Bookshop.org and Amazon UK site contain an affiliate code which, should you make a purchase, gives a small commission to LKL at no additional cost to you.