Wednesday, October 17, 2012

[Review] From Wonso Pond by Kang Kyong-ae

Author: Kang Kyong-ae 
Genre: Fiction 
Published: 1934
Pages: 360
Rating: ★★

From Wonso Pond explores life in Korea through the eyes of orphaned Sonbi; her destitute childhood neighbor, Ch'otchae; and a restless law student, Sinch'ol as their paths cross in an impoverished village and the port city of Inch'on. They all take on treacherous and underpaid work in the city, but soon find hope in underground activist networks. As they drift in and out of each other's lives, their stories of hardship, resistance, and romance reveal an embattled society on the cusp of great change.

What I liked: 

Unfortunately, there are few things I can say I like about the story. 

I guess I could say that I liked that the story was a work of critical realism and explores the social issues of living in Japan-ruled Korea. And, in particular, it shows how women are affected in such an environment. Kyong-ae was criticized for writing so politically. As a woman, she was expected to write women's fiction, which is supposed to be sentimental, romantic, and melodramatic. Hers has elements of all three, but there is an underlying political argument. However, at times, especially towards the end, I feel like her argument is a bit too blunt. And this is coming from someone who is terrible at interpreting stories and needs things told to her outright. I would have liked for her argument to be more subtle and buried beneath her prose. 

It's also interesting to note that the story was originally serialized in a newspaper.

What I didn't like: 

The story is a melodrama. From the very first page it starts out as one. It tells of how Wonso Pond is created by the tears of the villagers who grieve for their dead. From then on, it's just melodramatic blah. Too much emotion! Kind of felt like a soap opera. Because it's a melodrama, there's really no hero. Ch'otchae is probably the closest thing. Like most melodramas, it has a very tragic ending. 

How women were portrayed. They are either catty and jealous, or meek and submissive. One of the main male characters has to choose between a "New Woman"--who are consumers and cosmopolitans--and a more traditional woman. This is a common element that you see in Korean literature. Also, Sonbi, the main female character, just lets people push her around. She's so passive I just wanted to throttle her throughout the entire novel. (((p(>o<)q)))

The writing style is very simplistic. Being from the 1930s, I had expected it to be a bit more complicated, and I figured the prose would be a bit more difficult to understand. But it was the exact opposite. The writing style seemed very childish. There's a lot of depth to the novel regarding content, but the way it is presented is just too much like a middle grade book for me. I wonder how much of the author's style is lost in translation though. 

The beats are on a different line than the dialogue. It drove me nuts! How was I supposed to know who said what?

The ending was abrupt. I think the abrupt ending might have stemmed from the fact that it was a serial novel published in a newspaper. It could be that the newspaper needed the story to end so she just ended it quickly. I also wish the author had focused less on their life in the village at the beginning and more on when they get to the city and how they become activists for the communist party. It wasn't really expanded on in great detail. This might have to do with that fact that the publications were in control, I believe, of Japanese imperialists. Mentions of the communist party in the story are actually censored out.

I had to read this story for my Modern Korean Literature class, and it's actually the first piece of fiction I have read from a Korean author. I probably would not have picked up the story if it hadn't been required. It's not usually what I like to read. Overall, I'm kind of indifferent about the book. I didn't hate it, I didn't love it. It's just kind of bleh and that's why I only gave it two stars. 

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