Book Reviews

Reviews of Korean titles published overseas

Book Review Japanese(日本語)

[Japanese] The Baton Has Been Passed: A Different Person by Kang Hwa Gil

by Hiroko Oyamada, on April 18, 2022

  • English(English)
  • Japanese(日本語)

Jina reports her boyfriend, who’s also hersuperior at work, to the police for choking her. She rejects an out-of-courtsettlement, but all he faces after a trial is a trivial fine of about 300,000yen. He doesn’t lose his job, and faces no jail time. Jina writes about thisinjustice online. While there come voices of sympathy and encouragement, theylast only an instant, and are soon replaced with comments mocking andslandering her. Ultimately, Jina winds up leaving her job.

We cannot fully understand others. When oursex, age, and position in society are different, mutual understanding becomeseven more difficult. Because of this we must rely on our imagination wheneverinteracting with others, whether they be family, friends, lovers, or those whojust happen to sit next to us. However, with the birth of the internet,unilateral communication where we ignore the feelings of those we’re talking tohas become much easier. Occasionally, that sort of communication becomes a typeof violence; it can harm others and chase them into a corner.

Jobless, Jina closes herself up in her room andspends her days reading all the comments deriding her. She can’t help herself.One day, she finds amongst all those comments one from someone who seems toknow her personally. Because of that comment, she returns to Anjin, where sheused to live, to face her past.

Jina’s memory, just like anyone else’s, isspotty. Events are reversed and mixed up. Things are rewritten to fit herexpectations. She searches, knowing there’s something important there, and shemeets old acquaintances, talks, and tries to remember. Her best friend Dana; herchildhood friend Sujin who, for some reason, she grew distant from; herclassmate Yuri who died young in an accident. It becomes clear as all theirmemories are recounted that all the women in this novel are deeply injured,both physically and mentally, by unwanted sex. Unexpected pregnancies, sexuallytransmitted viruses, physical injuries; their bodies swell, fester, and hurt.

The suffering they face is all quite familiarto me, even though I live in Japan. They’re all the sorts of problems you can’tplan for ahead of time, the sorts of misfortune you can only pray does notbefall you or anyone close to you. As I moved through the pages of this book, Ihad no space to enjoy my reading. I had no space to even hope that thecharacters would somehow be saved and all would end happily.

Misogyny is real. Whether you try to deny it orjust shrug it off and say women actually have more power these days, that is anundeniable fact. And while how much of any group believes we must put an end tothis discrimination varies from community to community, it is most often thesocietal discrimination that they are talking about. Unfair wages and hiringpractices, biased school entrance examinations.

This book, however, depicts not only societaldiscrimination, but something more primal: the pain of physical difference.Only certain bodies can become pregnant. There are sexually transmitteddiseases that leave men’s bodies unharmed but do serious damage to women’s. Andwhen someone tries to hold someone else down and force their desire on them, itis by far most often men who have larger bodies and thus greater physicalstrength. We know that. Of course we know that. Anyone who has lived for sometime as a woman knows that. We don’t mention it, and we seem not to pay it anymind, because if we don’t live as though those facts don’t bother us, we won’tbe able to go on. Victims are blamed for not looking out for themselves, aretreated as villains trying to ruin men, and the legal and welfare systems can’tprovide sufficient support.

Jina, Dana, Sujin, and Yuri. The memories ofthese women come together, and it is thrilling to see the linking of the painand suffering hidden therein, the connections between the experiences each ofthem considered their own personal trauma. As I read, I imagined a closingscene where these women join forces and challenge that which robbed them oftheir dignity. But that is not what this author chose. While she does offerglimmers of hope, she does not free us with a cathartic ending. Countless Jinasand Danas and Sujins and Yuris continue to suffer, and their enemy is not oneperson, but an endless number of individuals, and, on top of that, the veryatmosphere of society that produces such people. We are living now. Can we—whosometimes even benefit from that same social atmosphere—can we tell such adramatic story where the women face down their oppressors?

So the author has passed the baton to thereader. It was not handed to me alone. Countless readers (women and men both),must take that baton. It is our turn to run.



Translated by Kalau Almony


Hiroko Oyamada

Author, TheFactory (New Directions 2019)
The Hole (New Directions 2020)

Winner, 2014 Akutagawa Prize







Hiroko Oyamada

Author, The Factory (New Directions 2019)
The Hole (New Directions 2020)

Winner, 2014 Akutagawa Prize

Keyword : A Different Person,Kang Hwa Gil

Book's Info
  • 別の人
  • Author : カン ファギル
  • Co-Author :
  • Translator : 小山内 園子
  • Publisher : etc.books, inc.
  • Published Year : 2021
  • Country : JAPAN
  • Original Title : 다른 사람
  • Original Language : Korean(한국어)
  • ISBN : 9784909910103
Author's Info
[WriterVO : { rowPerPage : 0, start : 0, end : 0, searchTarget : null, searchKeyword : null, filter : []}]
  • Kang hwa gil
  • Birth : 1986 ~ -
  • Occupation : Novelist
  • First Name : hwa gil
  • Family Name : Kang
  • ISNI : -
  • Works : 6
Original Work's info
  • 다른 사람
  • Author : Kang hwa gil
  • Co-Author :
  • Publisher : 한겨레출판
  • Published Year : 2017
  • Country : SOUTH KOREA
  • Original Language : Korean(한국어)
  • ISBN : 9791160400939

Translated Books2

  • Japanese(日本語) Book
    カン ファギル / 강화길 / 2021 / literature > Korean Literature > Korean Fiction > 21st century > Others
  • Chinese(汉语) Book
    姜禾吉 / 강화길 / 2019 / literature > Korean Literature > Korean Fiction > 21st century > Others