Wednesday, October 24, 2012

[Review] The Guest - Hwang Sok-Yong

Author: Hwang Sok-Yong
Genre: Fiction
Published: 2001
Pages: 234
Rating: ★★★★

The guest is smallpox, an infectious disease from the West that destroyed lives and families. The guest is the twin horrors that Christianity and Communism became when they reached fanatical heights in Korea. And the guest is Ryu Yosop, who visits his homeland for the first time in forty years to face the repercussions of his brother's actions during the Korean War.

I didn't think I was going to like this book just because it was for a class and my teachers have a habit of picking the most demented or boring books on the planet. However, I was pleasantly surprised with this book. I would't label it a favorite, but it was definitely worthwhile and interesting.

I love gritty books with lots of violence and death (and this has an abundance of both). However, this novel is based on real life, which just makes it depressing rather than cool. The novel recounts the Sin'chon massacre that took place between the 17th of October and the 7th of December in 1950. It just blows me away knowing what people will do to one another. Especially people you've known your entire life. It's a very sobering work of fiction. There are few, if any, parts that will make you smile. Unless you're, like, a sadist or something.

At times, the story has a creepy tone. Yosop is haunted by his older brother and the people his brother killed. You even start to wonder if these are real ghosts of if it's just Yosop going crazy. Tension is thick throughout the novel. Between scenes of the massacre, the reader is thrust into North Korea, where Yosop's every move is constantly watched.

For the most part, the book is written from Ryu Yosop's perspective in the third person. But I find it interesting that Hwang also employs multivocal narrative, which is the use of multiple first-person voices. He writes in the first person when he shows scenes of the past. It's very confusing at times, though, because you don't know who the speaker is. I think this is intentional though. It kind of blends the characters together. I really enjoyed the constant juxtaposition of the past and the present.

If you like gritty war novels, this is definitely the book for you. I would highly recommend it.

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