Cheon Myeong-kwan

Teoksen Whale tekijä

2 teosta 152 jäsentä 7 arvostelua

Tietoja tekijästä

Sisältää nimet: 천명관,, Cheon Myeong-Kwan


(eng) The author's family name is Cheon. Cheon Myeong-kwan is his preferred romanization of his name.

Tekijän teokset

Whale (2004) 140 kappaletta
Modern Family (Korean Voices) (2015) 12 kappaletta

Merkitty avainsanalla


Kanoninen nimi
Cheon Myeong-kwan
Virallinen nimi
Muut nimet
Cheon, Myeong-kwan
South Korea
Yong-in South Korea
The author's family name is Cheon. Cheon Myeong-kwan is his preferred romanization of his name.



Highly entertaining novel working in the modes of folk tales and tall tales to say something about the development of modern day South Korea. I know nothing of the Korean tradition of folk and tall tales, and I imagine familiarity with those adds a meaningful and deeper context, though I found it similar enough to Western cultural creations to understand it on these levels.

Cheon is a screenwriter as well as a novelist and perhaps knowing that helped bring up a couple of memorable films in my mind as other points of reference. First was “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover”. Certainly not an exact parallel but the novel’s stylized construction, usage of folk/tall tale form in a modern setting, use of violence, and indirect political satirization brought the film to mind. Next was Tarsem Singh’s “The Fall”, for some of its more whimsical tall tale stylings. I think the stunning blue cover of the Europa Editions may have primed that association, considering the film’s beautiful, colorful visualizations of the fantastical tall tale its protagonist spins out to his young listener in service of his dark and self-despairing goal.

I happen to dislike “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover” while “The Fall” is one of my favorite films; “Whale” sits with the latter. It works brilliantly for me and is by far my favorite of the four of six International Booker shortlisted works I’ve read so far for this year. The forms, the tone, the characters, the plot, the images, all are appealing standouts. As someone without a lot of familiarity with Korean culture and society however I’m sure I can’t ultimately interpret it nearly as sharply as a reader who does have that; instead I’ll happily take Cheon’s offering regarding truth and interpretation on one of the final pages here:
It is easy for truth to vanish, like ice melting in your hand. Perhaps we’d be closer to the truth if we refrained from all explanation and interpretation. Certainly that would free her from being trapped in simplistic, static statements. Certainly that would free her, let her blow away in the breeze that swept through the valleys of Nambaran, and help us to approach the truth. Dear reader, the story continues.
… (lisätietoja)
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lelandleslie | 6 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Feb 24, 2024 |
6. Whale by Cheon Myeong-Kwan
translation: from Korian by Chi-Young Kim (2023) reader: Cindy Kay
OPD: 2004 (in Korean)
format: 11:35 audible audiobook (420 Pages in paperback)
acquired: January 11 listened: Jan 17, Jan 23 – Feb 1
rating: 4
genre/style: Novel theme: random audio
locations: South Korean 1930’s to ~1970’s
about the author: He is a South Korean novelist, screenwriter and film director, born in Yong-in South Korea in 1964

I'm still thinking about this weird walk through the lives on of two improbable/impossible South Korean women covering roughly 40 years, from the 1930's through many years of the South Korean dictatorship under Major General Park Chung Hee (1961-1979).

Satirical humor, loose kimonos, and impossible events, perhaps magical realism, but with a satirical flavor, may turn readers off, or on. I listened one day, and then decided to take a break with another short audiobook, then come back to it a little more mentally prepared. It's entertaining, and sneakily informative.

Geumbok, who lost her mother young, runs away from her father and little village for a town along the coast with a fish monger, who, of course, she sleeps with. She makes him rich, converting his business, then loses it all over a huge simple man of superhuman strength. And so go her fortunes, begging, whoring, associating with criminals, then wealthy, in business and condemning communists, making her dreams unhappily, then back down again. Along the way she has an improbable daughter, Chunhee (or is it Chunhui?), a mute of unusually large size and strength who she neglects, and who converses only with an African elephant. There are mad curses, one-eyed bee whisperers, twin-circus veterans, a dog who lives for years in an abandoned town tied to a post, sex-hungry Christian priests and savvy tricksters, one of who cuts off his own fingers regularly. Along the way the narrator provides us with many unenlightening laws. When a character does something stupid, the narrator concludes with, "This was the law of stupidity." And so on.* A strange way to look at the Korean War and the botched Republic of 1961 to 1979.

But entertaining, nonetheless. Recommended to the tolerant.

*One Goodreads review lists every law!

… (lisätietoja)
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dchaikin | 6 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Feb 3, 2024 |
Honestly I was vibing with it for the most part but there were some parts that even had me, the renowned magical realism fan, notorious Murakami lover, superb(ly) invested reader of slow books, masochist, procurer of all magical realism books this side of the Atlantic and hot-tempered plot spoiler, thinking that this book was a little much. Honestly as a woman I felt a little degraded sometimes, but also it felt like that was kind of the point? :/
1 ääni
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ejerig | 6 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Oct 25, 2023 |
*Shortlisted for International Booker Prize 2023*

“Life is sweeping away the dust that keeps piling up, as she mopped the floor with a rag, and sometimes she would add, Death is nothing more than dust piling up.”

As the story begins, we meet twenty-seven-year-old Chunhui as she returns to the ruins of her village after a stint in prison for a crime she did not commit. As she looks round her, she sees the ruins of the mountain village of Pyeongdae, a village once made prosperous through the industriousness of her mother Geumbok – a woman who rose from an impoverished life to become a wealthy entrepreneur in a predominantly patriarchal society. Chunhui, Geumbok’s mute daughter with a large build and uncanny strength, is more than often treated with neglect and indifference by her mother. Chunhui, though mute, was capable of communicating with an elephant named Jumbo she had known since she was a child and who was her only friend. The lives of mother and daughter are impacted by the legacy of an “old crone” and her one-eyed daughter whose stories are directly to Geumbok’s good fortune and ultimate downfall and tragic death in Pyeongdae. The story continues as we flow Chunhui as struggles to survive a solitary life among the ruins of her mother’s legacy, striving to make a living on her own using and improving on the skills she learned when was younger.

The narrative switches between past and present as we follow the stories of these different characters and the people and events that impact their lives. The author incorporates themes of ambition, loss, gender identity and politics, motherhood, and found family into this rich and engrossing narrative. Though Geumbok’s story dominates the larger part of the narrative and we follow her struggles as she overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles to carve a niche to herself in a hostile world dominated by the will of men, I found Chunhui’s story to be the most emotionally impactful. Despite its fairy tale like quality and moments of humor, Whale by Myeong-kwan Cheon (translated by Chi-Young Kim) story is drenched in tragedy, violence and abuse, mostly directed toward women. The symbolism of the whale - an animal Geumbok sees for the first time in a harbor city which leaves a lasting impression – and the impact of the same on her life and her action in different stages of Geumbok’s life are well constructed. A significant change Geumbok exacts in her life toward the end of her life is particularly significant in summing up her disillusionment with the way women were perceived and treated in that era and how she, in turn, viewed the men in her life in terms of power and influence.

The tone of the narrative varies between satirical and humorous to dark and disturbing, often detached and matter of fact. As we follow the stories of these women , the author takes us through the changing social, economic and political landscape of South Korea spanning the Korean War, communism and its aftermath and the emergence of capitalism, modernization and economic prosperity as well issues pertaining to gender roles and politics. Initially I found the different threads of the story a tad disjointed but the author skillfully weaves it all together together in a fantastical story steeped with magical realism and folklore, larger than life characters, and vivid imagery. The non-linear narrative and somewhat inconsistent pacing takes a while to get used to but does not detract from the overall reading experience.
… (lisätietoja)
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srms.reads | 6 muuta kirja-arvostelua | Sep 4, 2023 |


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