Princess Bari

Hwang Sok-yong


‘Fleeing famine and the misfortune of her family, a young woman embarks on a perilous quest to survive in South Korean novelist Hwang’s latest. The youngest in a family of seven daughters in 1980s North Korea, Bari’s arrival into the world brings great disappointment. Named after an old Korean myth—wherein an abandoned princess searches the globe for an elixir that will bring peace to the dead—Bari is abandoned at birth but later found and brought home by her family’s dog. To the delight of Bari’s grandmother, the girl has inherited their ancestors’ gift of sight, an ability she surreptitiously helps Bari nurture. When famine sweeps North Korea in the 1990s, news arrives that Bari’s uncle has defected to the south, bringing with it harrowing realities that infect and dismantle their home. The family fractures, and Bari, her grandmother, sister Hyun, and dog, Chilsung (with whom Bari speaks telepathically) are smuggled across the border to China. Alas, no sooner do they find safety than Hyun, Grandmother, and Chilsung die within months of each other. Despondent and alone, 13-year-old Bari ends up in Yanji, working as an apprentice at a foot massage parlor. It’s there that she discovers her unique ability to map strangers’ lives through touching them. After an unpaid debt upends the business, Bari lands in the bottom of a cramped cargo ship on its way to England. In the ship’s darkness, she dissociates, slipping into “layers of the otherworld,” each sensation “like soft fabric tearing each time I shed my body.” This transient place that Hwang expertly builds conjures the disorientation brought by tragedy. In its unnerving darkness we wonder, as Bari falls further away from her body, if she might never make it back to the surface. In London, Bari’s consciousness elasticizes, making room for her permeable worlds to coexist. As her body takes root in a new place, Bari finds love and even happiness, and eventually finds work as a healer, helping others mine their sorrows. Still, with growth comes deep pain, and Hwang uses Bari’s isolation and quiet agony to depict the psychic trauma that settles into the lives of those who are displaced. A mesmerizing odyssey through the beauty, suffering, and rage that flow from the irrepressible desire to live.’ Kirkus Starred Review

‘Book to watch out for in 2019’ New York Times

‘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.’

‘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


  • Periscope Books UK
  • Scribe ANZ & USA
  • Editions Philippe Picquier France
  • Changbi Korea
  • Iwanami Shoten Japan
  • Einaudi Italy
  • Alianza Spain & Latin America
  • Font Forlag Norway
  • Univers 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
  • Komubook Ukraine
  • TEAS press Azerbaijan
  • Jagiellonian University Press Poland
  • Elsinore/PRH Portugal

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