• Book
  • English(English)


  • Author
  • Country
    Republic of Korea
  • Publisher
  • Published Year
  • Genre
    Korean literature - Contemporary drama - Contemporary fiction



    Title: The Idiots

    Author: Kim Soom

    Genre: Korean Literature/ Novel


    LTI Korea staff: Alex Baek ( / +82-2-6919-7741)


  • About the book


    “Before I go on about Father, I must confess what I know about him amounts to a grain of sand. That’s right, the part I understand about his life equals a single tiny grain. The only thing I can say with confidence is this: he was to me the desert sand.”


    “The idiots wished one another peace and happiness. Though they were obscure men, insignificant as a seed or water drop, there weren’t anyone more precious to them. They never left one another’s side.”


    “I believed I had two fathers. One who had come back from the desert and one who hadn’t.”


    - A dreamlike story unfolds through a child’s conflicted perception of her father and the “idiots” who surround him.




    Kim Soom’s debut novel The Idiots (The Story of Sand) is a coming-of-age novel with elements of fantasy, told in first person by the daughter of a Korean worker who was part of the exodus of Korean laborers to the Middle East during the seventies and eighties. The narrator’s father has a hard time readjusting to reality after returning from a Middle Eastern construction job and subsequently buries himself in sand. The novel chronicles the next twenty years of the narrator's life, weaving in the history of Korean development and the histories of other “idiots” who have become disenfranchised from Korean society.


    Beginning with the words, “Father came back from the desert,” the striking, poetic description brings to life the young girl’s father and men in Block 15, commonly referred to as the “idiots.”


    Through the young girl’s eyes, we see a generation that was born around the 1945 Liberation, as children experienced the Korean War and the April Revolution, and as young men fought in the Vietnam War, or worked at a construction site in the Middle East or in the mines in West Germany. They now find themselves on the fringes of society, unable to contribute to their families. No longer part of the labor force, they gather each night on the rooftop of the narrator’s home, recounting stories they have only heard while they share a loaf of bread and drink soju. In the narrator’s eyes, her father and these men are objects of scorn, whose names she feels she must forget in order to mature into an adult.


    Because her father has always existed in her life as a kind of void, the narrator, in her first art class, draws yellow grains of sand when she is asked to draw his portrait. But after his return from the desert, when a shovelful of sand in his suitcase creates fantastic, shapeshifting images, she begins to understand her father and his world a bit more. The sand is at once her younger sister and the race undertaken by her older brother, who dreams of becoming a marathoner. It is the stars in the night sky that pierce her eyes, the snow that never melts, and water that flows like a river.


    The lives of the idiots also continue to flow like sand. Though they are swept along helplessly, or they drift instead to a lower place, when the narrator sees the sand flowing like the Milky Way, she comes face to face with a father who is able to find peace within his hard life.

    About the author


    KIM SOOM was born in Ulsan in 1974. Her career as a writer began when she won the Daejeon Ilbo New Writer’s Award in 1997 for her short story “On Slowness,” as well as the Munhakdongne New Writer Award the following year for “Time in the Middle Ages.” She is a prolific writer, having published numerous short story collections and novels, such as Fighting Dog, Liver and Gallbladder, Your God, My Beautiful Sinners, To Abandon a Yellow Dog, Women and Their Evolving Enemies, L’s Sneakers, The Woman Who Sews, and One Left.


    Kim chooses time and time again to turn her careful gaze on the underprivileged and marginalized, such as women, orphans, the elderly, and the displaced, exposing the underbelly of society with sensitivity and precision.


    Kim has swept many of Korea’s major literary prizes, such as the Daesan Literary Award, the Hyundae Munhak Award, and the Yi Sang Literary Award, and continues to receive praise and rave reviews from critics and readers alike.


    One Left has been translated into Japanese and is scheduled to be published in Japan in 2018.

    About the translators


    JANET HONG is an award-winning translator and writer based in Vancouver, Canada. Her work has appeared in BrickLit HubAsia Literary ReviewWords Without Borders, Asymptote Journal, and the Korea Times. Her translation of Han Yujoo’s The Impossible Fairy Tale was a finalist for the 2018 PEN Translation Prize and is currently nominated for the National Translation Award. Her other translations include Ancco’s Bad Friends and Ha Seong-nan’s The Woman Next Door.

    Media Response/Awards Received


    The Idiots (The Story of Sand) is the remarkable debut novel by a writer, who has firmly established herself by now as a writer of rare insight and imaginative power.

    Kim, whose own father went to the Middle East for a manual labor job when she was six years old, grounds the novel in the history of Korean and world development, while employing elements of fantasy, allegory, and magic realism reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Though the narrator’s tenuous relationship with her father is the focus of this book, Kim weaves together the stories of a colourful cast of characters with warmth and sensitivity, while the desert sand, which follows the narrator’s father home, becomes a mighty presence symbolizing both dread and beauty. Fans of Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper will be sure to fall in love with The Idiots (The Story of Sand), and it is with delight that readers will discover in this earlier work the same distinct voice and aesthetic style they have come to love about Kim.

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