Monday 23 June 2014

Our Happy Time - Ji-young Gong

What a beautiful book this really is. The premise sounds unremittingly depressing; a wealthy suicidal woman, still struggling to come to terms with the abuse she suffered as a teenager is made to visit a death row inmate convicted of murder and rape. How bleak and awful does that sound eh? However this is not a bleak book, it is delicate, fragile and beautiful. About finding and giving forgiveness, about the idiocy of claiming that death penalty executions are anything other than state sponsored murder, and about how inner peace can be found by accepting the unacceptable and learning to appreciate the little beauties around us. Yujeung is a profoundly damaged young woman, abused by a family member as a teenager and brutally rejected by her mother, she has become hedonistic and an embarrassment to her family. The only member of her family who treats her with respect is her aunt, a nun, who insists that Yujeung accompanies her on her charitable visits to the local state prison. The prisoner they visit, Yunsu is utterly hopeless, angry at the world and resistant to any attempts to change this. As Yujeung and Yunsu open up to one another, each finds a way of reconciling themselves to their own pasts.
The story is told through alternating chapters focusing on the prison visits and Yunsu's childhood. The 'Blue Note' sections that follow the childhood and youth of Yunsu are particularly painful to read. These contrast with the growing warmth that is found in the prison visits, between Yujeung, Yunsu and the unwilling third party in the relationship, the prison guard Officer Yi.
This is a deeply moving book; beautiful spare writing and well crafted characters combine to create a wonderful novel that is disarmingly easy to read despite the subject matter.

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