Cheon Myeong-Kwan: 고래 (The Whale)

The latest addition to my website is Cheon Myeong-Kwan‘s 고래 (Whale). This is an incredibly complicated and, at times, improbable story about various characters during the second part of the 20th century. Geumbok escapes her brutal father, with the aid of an itinerant fishmonger who, thanks to Geumbok’s entrepreneurial skills, becomes rich but loses her first to a giant of a man and then a cinema-owning gangster. Meanwhile she has become obsessed with a blue whale. Things go wrong for her (and worse for them) and she moves on, giving birth to the various large and very simple Chunhui during the Korean War. Geumbok resumes her entrepreneurial path and becomes very rich, while her daughter spends her time at her mother’s brickyard, learning how to make bricks. It all goes wrong again and the simple Chunhui is sent to prison for something she did not do. She is released during an amnesty and resumes her brick-making but it does not go to plan. It is a highly inventive novel with a far more complex plot than I can describe but all the main characters die, often violently, as do many others, but if you do mind grimness it is a thoroughly enjoyable novel.

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