Kong’s Garden starts beautifully and ends too quickly. Though definitely not an uplifting one, this may stay with you for a while. With its kittens under umbrellas and secret tunnels, it is worth remembering.
We don’t know out narrators name. She talks about her life but never reveals her name and I think this says a lot about the book. Kong’s Garden may be about the narrators’ life or maybe a strange crime/mystery but what it really communicates is something else.
It is that without excellent education, you have no right to prosper in Korea. You can feel the pressure on the young people, working and studying at the same time; thinking a degree would never be enough.
Our narrator is destined for failure throughout her life because she doesn’t have a proper education. The saddest thing is that she seems to be “okay” with this cause it is obvious that there’s nothing she can do about it.
Imagine Cormac McCarthy writing about the boring lives of clerks and you’ll anticipate something of the dystopic flavour of this gripping but socially bleak short story from Hwang. In a Korean world in which education has historically meant everything, the narrator realizes both that this is not true (through her partner in an essentially loveless affair) and that the recognition of this fact does not surprise her at all. The narrator is drawn into a larger story when she refuses to sell cigarettes to Jinju, a young woman in the company of two men who subsequently goes missing.
Hwang Jungeun was born in Seoul, South Korea. She dropped out of Incheon National University. Hwang learned Korean at a younger age than most kids and was skilled in learning new words (Kyeonggi Ilbo). She started writing books after her short story “Mother” was selected in the Novel Field of 2005 Kyunghyang Sinmun Annual Spring Literary Contest.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: