Publisher: Scribe

At Dusk by Hwang Sok-yong

Posted April 12, 2019 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

At Dusk by Hwang Sok-yongTitle: At Dusk (Goodreads)
Author: Hwang Sok-yong
Translator: Sora Kim-Russell
Published: Scribe, 2018
Pages: 192
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019

On the outside, Park Minwoo was the poster boy for success. Born into poverty, his parents owned a small fishcake store. He worked hard and now he is the director of one of Korea’s biggest architectural firms. However, Park thinks maybe he have missed the point of life. He has followed the ideal path to become wealthy but at the cost of his childhood love Cha Soona.

At Dusk is a quiet exploration into the life of a modern Korean businessman and his success, but it also reflects on the modernisation of Seoul. It is an obvious allegory; while Park doubts his success is the true meaning of a well lived life, the author begins to question the modernisation of Korea. The cost of progress really is the driving force behind the novella. As a Westerner, I feel like we are led to believe that all progress is good. The US goes to war with many countries because their values are different. We are forcing westernisation onto the rest of the world, and we are led to believe this is for the good of the country.  However, it is books like At Dusk that often help me explore a different argument.

Park Minwoo’s family lived a simple life running a small business, while Cha Soona’s parents were noodle makers. Modernisation means the end of these small businesses. Mass production and making money is the only thing of value. Noodle houses quickly become franchised coffee houses. The Korean culture is dying, leaving only Taekwondo and K-Pop behind.

This was a simple little novel, just a quiet yet urgent meditation on the effects progress has on its people and their culture. I feel the author could have done more but I have heard that Park Minwoo appears in other Hwang Sok-yong books. While it is longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, I cannot see it making the shortlist. This feels more like a quick read the judges put into the list to get people to think more about the topic of westernisation and progress, what it means to the people, the country and also their culture.

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

Posted March 20, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

Wolf in White Van by John DarnielleTitle: Wolf in White Van (Goodreads)
Author: John Darnielle
Published: Scribe, 2014
Pages: 224
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

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Sean Phillips lives an isolated life since a disfiguring injury that happened when he was seventeen. To past the time in his Southern Californian apartment he has created an interactive survival strategy game called Trace Italian, which can be played via mail. Two high school students, Lance and Carrie from Florida, start exploring the world of Trace but manage to take their role playing into the real world. Disaster strikes and Sean is called on to account for his actions and figure out how this could happen.

For those of you that don’t know, John Darnielle is the singer-songwriter for the indie folk rock band The Mountain Goats. While the band is currently a three piece, Darnielle had been the sole member for many years. Wolf in White Van is the first novel by John Darnielle and the man knows how to write. When a musician turns to writing, I feel a little hesitant but Darnielle’s debut blew my expectations out of the water. Wolf in White Van sets itself apart from most debut novels by going for something different and more complex.

Wolf in White Van is an interesting novel to talk about because the structure of the book is told backwards. So the readers are given the beginning of the story and the climax right at the end of the novel. This structure works really well with exploring the character of Sean Phillips, and slowly it is revealed just how he ended up so isolated and lonely. This allows for the exploration of loneliness and the game Trace Italian is an interesting device that allows others, who are also lonely, to interact with Sean Phillips.

I am fascinated by this game Trace Italian. First of all, it is unique in the sense that it is a text based survival game that is played through the mail. People send their next move and based on that Sean Phillips sends them the next part of the game. The goal of the game is to make it to safety in the post-apocalyptic world; while there is a possibility of completing the game, Sean believes that no one will ever do so. There is also the events that happen with Lance and Carrie which, while not really a spoiler, I will not mention it, except to say this event explores the ideas of artist responsibility. There is constantly stories where music, movies or video games are blamed for tragic events and the way John Darnielle explores this issue is very interesting, at least from a creator’s point of view. The idea that this novel is told backwards really plays on the whole idea of playing music backwards may reveal hidden satanic messages.

Wolf in White Van is a brilliant debut, full of unexpected depth. It is a fascinating character study and there is so many interesting themes to explore within this novel. I am extremely impressed with John Darnielle and I hope there are many more novels to come from this brilliant songwriter and author. Wolf in White Van may sound like a it is heavily focused on this role playing game but really it is a character driven novel that just involves a game. Highly recommend this novel for anyone interested in the themes mentioned above.