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A rare glimpse into an insular world.

A renowned North Korean novelist writes about marriage, family, and responsibility.

Now a best-selling author, Paek (b. 1949) began his working life in a steel factory. Reading and writing in his spare time, he enrolled in college, taking mostly long-distance courses, and, in 1976, graduated with a degree in Korean literature. To contribute to the Three Revolutions campaign that urged citizens to enhance their understanding of political ideology, technical skills, and culture, Paek chose a career in writing, soon attaining national popularity. Published in 1988, this novel, deftly translated and with an informative afterword by Kim (Rewriting Revolution: Women, Sexuality, and Memory in North Korean Fiction, 2018), is set during a period of social and cultural transition, “the Hidden Hero campaign of the 1980s, which sought to recognize the extraordinary achievements of otherwise ordinary citizens” as well as continuing to promote self-improvement through education. To highlight the tensions involved in changing times, Paek focuses on a divorce: a couple seeking to dissolve their marriage and a judge who must decide on their case after a thorough investigation. The judge’s examination of the wife, Sun Hee, a popular and esteemed singer, and the husband, Seok Chun, a lathe worker in a factory, reveals intricate relationships between individuals and the collective. Sun Hee and Seok Chun are driven apart by conflicting perceptions of their roles in society: Sun Hee developed her talents and was rewarded; but Seok Chun, despite his wife’s goading, refused “to fulfill his true national duty—the duty to progress and advance in his social position.” Merely being a devoted worker is no longer enough: “Life’s true meaning is swimming upstream.” In a society that “is actively progressing toward becoming intellectualized in scientific technology and the arts,” marriage and family are at risk by individuals who refuse to move forward. Paek weaves themes of greed, corruption, and self-sacrifice into a subtle, restrained narrative that becomes nothing less than a paean to the family: society’s most valued unit, “where the love of humanity dwells.”

A rare glimpse into an insular world.

Pub Date: April 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-231-19560-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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