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The Guest by Hwang Sok-yong

Written by son of rambow on Wednesday, October 20, 2010

This, read in German translation, is a remarkable novel. It recounts the return of Yosop, a North Korean expat catholic priest who, upon the death of his brother, returns to North Korea.

His brother was part of a christian militia who committed atrocities in the North Korean civil war when the communists took over. His ghost and the ghosts of some of the people he killed visit Yosop and tell him their stories and unveil some of what happened in the civil war.

The writing is a strange mix of bland stiffness and rich metaphors, and hard to tell what's the usual ineptness of translators and what is really Sok-yong's style.

For a story full of ghosts it's disconcertingly straightforward, disconcerting, perhaps, because in many ways it resembles Pedro Paramo, which is a far superior novel.

That is not to say that The Guest is a bad book. It's not. I recommend it heartily. The subject is something that is not written about often, and the different kinds of fanaticism (communist/christian), the depictions of how these rip apart a close-knit community. it's a quick read, a disturbing read, a powerful book.

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