hwang sok-yong
Hwang Sok-Yong

HWANG SOK-YONG was born in 1943 and is arguably Korea's most renowned author. In 1993, he was sentenced to seven years in prison for an unauthorised trip to the North to promote exchange between artists in North and South Korea. Five years later, he was released on a special pardon by the new president.

 

He is the recipient of Korea's highest literary prizes including the Manhae Literary Prize, the Danjae Literary Prize, the Isan Literary Prize, the Daesan Literature Prize for THE GUEST, the Manhae Literary Award Grand Prize, the Korea Culture and Arts Foundation 'This Year's' Art Prize, the Mark of Respect Award, the Lee San Literature Prize, and was shortlisted for the Prix Femina Etranger. His novel THE ROAD TO SAMPO (1973) was made into a successful film and will be reissued in French by Editions Philippe Picquier. His multi-volume epic JANG GILSAN, serialised in a daily newspaper (1974-84), uses the parable of a medieval bandit to foil the censors to describe the contemporary dictatorship. A huge success in North as well as South Korea, it has sold over a million copies and remains a bestseller in Korean fiction today. His new novel AT DUSK, again a bestseller in Korea, will be published in French later this year by Philippe Picquier (translation ready) and in English worldwide by Scribe UK in 2018 (English translation in progress).

 

He has just published in Korea his eagerly awaited and fascinating autobiography entitled PRISONER.

'Hwang Sok-yong is undoubtedly the most powerful voice of the novel in East Asia today.' Kenzaburo Oe

'The author proves in a downright brilliant way, again and again, why he is seen in Korea as one of the most important national writers.' Le Monde

'Hwang Sok-yong is the most committed, politically active writer of all those who have been translated from the Korean in recent years.' Libération

FAMILIAR THINGS

Familiar Things French edition

Hwang Sok-yong's FAMILIAR THINGS (Natikun sesang) is a critique of modern society’s urge to use and discard. The novel takes us to the outer edge of Seoul, South Korea’s glittering metropolis and ‘miracle on the Han’, in order to reveal what lurks behind the country’s rapid economic growth.

After his father is sent to a government ‘re-education camp’, fourteen-year-old Bugeye and his mother move to Flower Island, a landfill on the outskirts of Seoul, at the urging of Ashura, a friend of the family. There, Bugeye and his mother build themselves a shack and earn a living weeding recyclables out of the hauls of trash brought there daily from the city. Bugeye becomes friends with Baldspot, Ashura's son, and soon learns the ins and outs of life on Flower Island. On one of their adventures around the island, Bugeye and Baldspot befriend a mysterious little girl who calls herself ‘Mr Kim's daughter’.

After the Lunar New Year, spring comes to the landfill. The garbage mountain the rubbish-pickers live on begins to thaw, producing inflammable gases that catch fire and engulf the entire island. Bugeye and his mother escape and seek refuge at the emporium. Meanwhile, Baldspot runs back into the flames to rescue a treasured game console Bugeye got him during a rare trip into the city, but he sadly does not make it back.

The richly detailed portrayal of the difficult lives of those driven out of the city like so much human garbage makes for a vivid and entertaining tale that reaffirms Hwang's literary prowess.

Familiar Things is a vivid depiction of a city too quick to throw away both possessions and people.’ Financial Times

‘The measure of a novel is not only its artful telling, but also the power and value of the story being told. Hwang observes what is most familiar to us, the mammoth accumulations of waste in our everyday lives, “the hell that we have created”. He challenges us to look back and re-evaluate the cost of modernisation, and see what and whom we have left behind.’ The Guardian

Familiar Things is a poignant novel that depicts decay and regeneration …  A sense of menace pervades the novel. But the relationship that develops between Bugeye and Baldspot, who he comes to adopt as his younger brother, is heartwarming.’ Big Issue

Familiar Things is both tragic and heartrending. It also feels timeless (it could almost be set in the far past or future, instead of its actual period setting)’ The Skinny Magazine

'Their life is seen through the adventures of Bugeye, a boy who, with his resourceful mother, survives “every bad odour in the world” to find solidarity among these human “discards and outcasts”. In their reeking shantytown, “children were useless, worth less than scrap metal.” Yet he thrives, and Mr Hwang sweetens his escapades with charm and compassion. Bugeye forgivably asks, “what was the straight and narrow when you lived in a garbage dump?” Still, he transcends the trash to pursue decency and dignity, thanks to ghostly visitations from the farming families who once inhabited an idyllic village here, “thick with bamboo”. Sora Kim-Russell’s translation moves gracefully between gritty, whiffy realism and folk-tale spookiness.' The Economist

'It is hauntingly poetical, delicately philosophical, unyielding in its urging to use the past to rescue a present heading for self-destruction... the overall voice that emanates from Familiar Things is truly hypnotic, possessing clarity of truth and a sense of purity that is not to be missed. Hwang Sok-yong has been hailed as one of the most poignant voices in East Asian literature, and Familiar Things evinces the power and the resonance that he deserves to have with an English audience.' Bookanista

‘Heartbreak and otherworldly beauty from Korea’s most famous novelist, Hwang Sok-yong. In Familiar Things South Korea’s best-known author, Hwang Yok-song uses both waste and mythical creatures to weigh the social and emotional price of a throwaway society.’ South China Morning Post

‘Nine times out of ten, the first name I’d come up with (if asked to name my favourite male Korean writer) would be Hwang Sok-yong, so the (very) recent release of his latest work to make it into English was a cause for celebration around these parts. Happily, the book more than lived up to expectations, and while it’s a fairly short novel, Hwang once again shows he’s a master of skewering the conceit of the Miracle on the Han, exposing the guilty little secrets many people would rather he left hidden…’ Tony’s Reading List

Hwang Sok-yong’s juxtaposition of opportunity with the harsh reality of his character’s circumstances that leaves a lasting impression.’ Bookloversbookreview

'In FAMILIAR THINGS, the great Korean writer embraces the social realities of his country. It is the opposite of the economic miracle that he paints for us here. Beyond simple naturalism, Hwang Sok-yong mixes into the actual, the magic of a popular culture steeped in the spiritual.' LivresHebdo

‘Hwang Sok-yong is one of the most read Korean writers in his country, and best known abroad. An activist for democracy and reconciliation with the North, in his books he melds his political fights with the Korean cultural imagination.' Le Monde

'A great political book, a plea for a country under the boot of a general, a country embroiled in a fierce power struggle, where ideology has been devoured by productivity, where human beings are nothing more than bellies to be filled for the benefit of industrial producers... Grandma Willow in her dementia rails, "You're despicable! Do you think you live alone here? You men may all disappear, nature will continue to exist!" Let's hope so!' Critiques Libres

'Hwang Sok-yong is an endearing author. For his perspective on people and things, for the instinctive modesty of his characters as well as his ability to "capture" - to return through fiction - the contemporary history of his country. Even more, to embody it.' La Croix

'Reality, fiction and fantasy mix closely, giving his writing unparalleled power. Hwang Sok-yong’s empathy for his heroes is always accompanied by a fierce rage against the powerful.' Le Monde Diplomatique

Sales

Scribe UK & USA

Scribe Australia & NZ

Editions Philippe Picquier France

Munhakdongne Korea

Alianza Spain & Latin America

Dogan Kitap Turkey

LLC PH Literaturnaya ucheba Russia

Sonia Draga Poland

Arab Scientific Press World Arabic

Einaudi Italy

Solum Bokvennen Norway

Film option sold, Sylvain Chomet animating

Material: Korean edition (233pp); French edition (188pp); English edition (224pp)

princess bari
Princess Bari

FILM OPTION WITH ALICE HUNTER-VERNAZZA (who worked on MISS MEADOWS, NEBRASKA, THE FROZEN GROUND amongst others)

PRINCESS BARI (Barideki) is arguably Hwang Sok-yong’s most powerful novel to date.

In Cheongjin, one of North Korea's drab urban enclaves, a seventh daughter is born to a couple longing for a son. Abandoned hours after her birth, she is dragged away by the family dog and eventually rescued by her grandmother. The old woman names the child Bari, after a Korean legend telling of a similarly forsaken princess who undertakes a quest for an elixir that will bring peace to the souls of the dead.

About immigration and harmony, the novel charts Bari's journey from North Korea to China, before crossing the oceans in the hold of a cargo ship and disembarking in clandestine London, where all religions and languages mix. In London Bari becomes a masseuse - but she doesn’t just heal the body, she also comforts souls. She has inherited from her beloved grandmother the talent to read the pain and nightmares of others and to travel through dreams into the past and the future. She finds her way amongst other immigrants, finds love in the most unlikely place, and suffers set-backs that drive her close to the edge. And finally this young girl takes on alone, with confidence and persistence, terrible tests from ancient Korean shamanism: transfiguring the old legend of Princess Bari which has become her fate and destiny.

Hwang's resilient heroine is a figure of compassion and perplexity in equal measure. For a novel that revels in the power of myth amidst the grim reality of its characters' lives, Bari herself is hauntingly real. The book is by turns tense, moving sad, and utterly uplifting.

'This extraordinary novel, hard hitting and muscular, is written as Ozu filmed, from the streets... Less uneven than his previous novels (Mister Han, The Ancient Garden), Hwang Sok-yong's pen flows more silkily here, more magical, to convey the chaos of exile. Champion for a reunification of Korea, he gives an account of a personal reunification, a damaged woman searching for her interior unity.' Telerama

'Authors such as Hwang, who are amongst the most important writers in their homeland, try to ensure with their work and political activities, that the ideals of the past are not forgotten.' Duetsche Presse Argentur

'Mixing the popular Korean legend of Princess Bari, a young abandoned girl who takes a long journey to the end of the world to find the water of life which will give the dead peace, with the fate of the book's heroine, Hwang Sok-yong creates a magnificent female character who fights relentlessly to find her place in a brutal world. Poetic, hallucinatory, Princesse Bari is also and above all a beautiful novel about displacement, exile and immigration. A modern fable you urgently need to discover.' Page des Librairies

'Bari dives over and over again into black misery, described by Hwang in his inimitable modest and minimalist style, which makes the narrative that much more powerful. Bari's personality - strong, positive, forward looking - allows her to overcome hardships to continually find 'l'eau de la vie'. Hwang has given us a very beautiful contemporary novel.' CritiqueLibres

'Hwang Sok-yong has transported this famous Korean legend into a chaotic world of concentration camp hell, human trafficking, terrorism, community... In this dark world float torture victims, the hungry, the exploited, the clandestine, all those expelled from and those victims of humanity’s chaos. Through spirits, curses, from the songs of ghosts of the dead, the novel gives voice to the forgotten.' Libération

'A tragic, symbolic novel, from the pen of an ex-dissident who has blown new life into Korean literature.' L’Express

'Princess Bari's a heart-wrenching tale, with a protagonist you can’t help but become attached to.' Unitedkpop.com

'In the current climate of increased nationalism, demonisation of immigrants, and encouragement in the media to blame large swathes of society en masse, this is a sobering story. It does not preach but enlightens making the reader think about their attitudes and how they are manipulated by those whose aim is to retain and improve their own position. The subject matter may be grim in places but this tale reads as a contemporary fable. It offers hope that if we treat others well we have a chance of a better life for all.' Neverimitate blog

‘Strong and exceptionally engaging.' Fædrelandsvennen, Norway

'Hwang Sok-yong merges together adventure, high-level politics and the meaning of life in a brutal testimony to the world's injustice.' NRK Norway

Sales

Periscope Books UK

Scribe ANZ

Editions Philippe Picquier France

Changbi Korea

Iwanami Shoten Japan

Einaudi Italy

Alianza Spain & Latin America

Font Forlag Norway

Polirom Romania

CoLibri Bulgaria

Tiderne Skifter Denmark

CSC Macedonia

LLC PH Literaturnaya ucheba, Russia

Soyombo, Mongolia

Tre Publishing House, Vietnam

De Arbeiderspers, the Netherlands

Kastaniotis Editions, Greece

Ombra Albania

Dogan Kitap Turkey

Arab Scientific Press World Arabic

Material: English (248pp), Korean, French and various other editions.

Evening Star
Etoile du chien cover

Published in French as L’ETOILE DU CHIEN QUI ATTEND SON REPAS (a translation of an alternative Korean name for Venus).

 

'For the first time, the great intellectual Hwang Sok-yong throws himself into something "that is in no way abstract – dying or living, these were the two possibilities offered" Very moving.' Le Monde

 

'A youth living under military dictatorship, subjected to violence… but a youth who fights, reads, writes, discusses and looks for a meaning to life. Letting yourself be led by Hwang Sok-yong’s pen is a true pleasure. A coming of age novel, a journey, this novel also allows the reader to discover Korea.' La Croix


The suicide rate amongst young people in South Korea is the highest in the world and Hwang Sok-yong wanted to write a novel that might help those contemplating suicide. He started writing this largely autobiographic novel on a blog and the response was overwhelming. EVENING STAR (Gaebapbaragibyeol, 2008) has sold over a million copies in South Korea.

 

The story takes place in the sixties, Chun and his friend Inho abandon their studies to go live in a cave and then set off on a long trek around their country, a country still marked by Japanese occupation and war. Returning to Soeul, the pick up their studies again, forming a group with their new friend the painter Chang Mu, spending their time in café Mozart. Chun and Mu start a love story which leads them to the Island of Cheju but Mu dies of tuberculoses and Chun is arrested for demonstrating. In prison he meets the ‘Lieutenant’ and leaves with him to work on building sites and on the sea. That’s when, one beautiful night, he discovers the ‘star for the dog who awaits his dinner’, also known as Venus. Finally, after having wanted to become a monk and survived a suicide attempt, he is conscripted into the army. This is a beautiful coming-of-age tale where first loves and friendships mix with spiritual searching, desire for freedom, ending ironically with the main character’s departure for Vietnam, called up for the American war which is not his own.

Sales

Munhakdongne Korea

Editions Serge Safran France

Material: Korean and French editions (249pp).

Shim Chong
Shim Chong Italian

The end of the nineteenth century was a time of famine and corruption, when child trafficking was a lucrative trade feeding vast illegal traffic throughout Southeast Asia. Shim Chong is no exception to the rule: sold as a teenager, she suffers the degrading rigours of a booming sex trade, from the banks of the Yellow River to the ports of Shanghai, Taiwan and Singapore, among the lowest prostitutes and courtly geishas – at a crossroads where the Asian Opium War and arms trafficking open up to Western imperialism. With his acute vision of the movement of history, SHIM CHONG (Simcheong) delivers a vivid landscape of broken lives and an unrelenting search for love.

'Hwang Sok-yong has made a symbol of this Korean Nana: one of freedom in a country held captive in the worst slavery.' Lire

'Tender and delicate.' Le Canard Enchaîné

Sales

Munhakdongne Korea

Editions Zulma France

Einaudi Italy

Colibri Bulgaria

Alianza Spain

Material: Korean, French, Spanish, Italian, Bulgarian editions (539pp).

The Guest
The Guest

WINNER OF THE DAESAN LITERATURE PRIZE

Based on actual events, THE GUEST (Sonnim) is a profound portrait of a divided people haunted by a painful past, and a generation's search for reconciliation. During the Korean War, Hwanghae Province in North Korea was the setting of a gruesome fifty-two-day massacre. In an act of collective amnesia the atrocities were attributed to the American military, but in truth they resulted from malicious battling between Christian and Communist Koreans. Forty years later Ryu Yosop, a minister living in America, returns to his home village where his older brother once played a notorious role in the bloodshed. Besieged by vivid memories and visited by the troubled spirits of the deceased, Yosop must face the survivors of the tragedy and lay his brother's soul to rest. Faulkner-like in its intense interweaving narratives, THE GUEST is a daring and ambitious novel from a major figure in world literature.

'Writing that refuses to ignore suffering, but at the same time refuses to let itself be destroyed by destruction.' Le Figaro Littéraire

'A story that helps explain the present weirdness in North Korea… its great insight into the region is deeply rewarding.' Kirkus Reviews

'A provocative novel … with a subtle power. Hwang takes the reader to the edge of a gruesome scene, then steps back and focuses on the sort of mundane detail that sticks in one's mind more firmly than any blood-splattered image.' TimeASIA Magazine

Sales

Changbi Korea

Seven Stories USA (WEL, 2006)

Editions Zulma France

Tinta Negra Brazil

Kinneret Israel

Ediciones del Ermitano Spain

Shanghai Translation China

Material: Korean and French editions (288pp).

The Ancient Garden
Ancient Garden UK

Oh Hyun Woo, a political activist, has served nearly twenty years of a life sentence, but when the Korean government relaxes its stance on such dissidents, he finds himself up for release. As he was growing old on the inside, though, things on the outside changed, and he is soon adrift in a world full of noise and activity, multi-storey apartment blocks and mobile phones. Struggling to adjust to the present and consider his future, Mr Oh is also forced to examine the past: family members he’s lost; friends he’s no longer in touch with; comrades who have died or moved on – and the loss of the love of his life. It may have been two decades since they were together, but some relationships leave their mark no matter what. Both a haunting love story and an insightful account of life in modern Korea, THE ANCIENT GARDEN (Oraedoen jeongwon) is a tantalising tale of loss, regret and expectation; and about how some things are simply meant to be, even when – tragically – events prove otherwise.

 

'Hwang Sok-yong, one of South Korea's most important modern writers, poignantly shows us that history is also a story of how individuals live, love and sacrifice in the tumult of time.' Krys Lee, author of Drifting House

Sales

Changbi Korea

Seven Stories USA (2012)

Picador UK & Commonwealth (2009)

Editions Zulma France

Bonniers Sweden

Ink & Shanghai Translation China

Material: Korean, US, UK and Swedish editions (539pp).

The Shadow of Arms
Shadow of Arms US

A young corporal serving in the Korean Armed Forces during the Vietnam War is transferred to the Allied Forces' Criminal Investigation Division in Da Nang. His assignment: to keep an eye on the black market that is flourishing in the country, feeding on the US dollars pouring into an imperialist war. In the thick web of black market dealings, ideals and ambitions cross and collide. Two brothers find themselves on opposing sides of the war. A Korean beauty hopes to buy herself a new life. And the corporal struggles to remain indifferent, to be able to forget all that he has seen and done when he returns home. Trafficking, blackmail, profiteering, and hoarding are set alongside the atrocities and brutalities of a hellish war, making THE SHADOW OF ARMS (Mugiui geuneul) different from other Vietnam War novels, with the wry and compassionate voice of a universal non-combatant.

Sales

Changbi Korea

Seven Stories US (WEL, 2014)

Editions Zulma France (rights reverted)

De Arbeiderspers NL

Material: Korean, French, Dutch and English editions (571pp).

Mister Han
Monsieur Han

A striking account of the life of a doctor during the Korean War, MISTER HAN (Hanssi yeondaegi) is a pivotal work in contemporary Korean literature. Separated from his family, suddenly plunged into a world of corruption and suspicion, Mr Han is facing the adverse effects of his new situation. Through the doctor’s tribulations, Hwang Sok-yong portrays a world divided between North and South, in ideological turmoil between submission and betrayal, cruel clarity and pure idealism. Through the pathetic beauty of his character, Hwang presents an unforgettable snapshot of diverging history and identity.

Sales

Changbi Korea

Editions Zulma France

DTV Germany

Solum Norway

Bonniers Sweden

BCDE Italy

Material: Korean and French editions (151pp).