17 Jul / Our Happy Time by Gong Ji-young, translated by Sora Kim-Russell
Not to discourage anyone, but feel free to stop reading any further and just go to your favorite bookstore, walk to your nearest library, click online, or visit your most literary buddy’s shelves, and open to the first page of Our Happy Time as soon as you possibly can.
Yunsu sits on death row, condemned for committing multiple murders. Yujeong lies in a hospital bed after her third suicide attempt. Yunsu confesses to a tragically difficult life in numbered Blue Notes; Yujeong reveals the meaninglessness of her overprivileged existence in alternating Chapters. And yet, hope is on its way …
On condition of her medical release – and to bypass further psychiatric treatment which has clearly failed her – Yujeong agrees to accompany her maternal Aunt Monica on her weekly visits to death row inmates. Yujeong, the only daughter in a wealthy, accomplished family, is a former pop star and current art professor. Aunt Monica is a nun … as truculent as she is devout, as candid as she is caring, and quite possibly Yujeong’s only relative who has given her unconditional, albeit often tough, love. The visit requirement is for a month, but as the next Thursday approaches, Yujeong finds she can’t stay away.
Yunsu freely admits to his violent past, from assaults to theft to murder. Like Aunt Monica, he was also the only relative that gave unconditional, albeit often extremely tough, love to his younger brother. Abandoned by their mother, abused by their father, the two brothers suffered a horrific childhood; only Yunsu survived. One of his brother Eunsu’s few moments of pure joy was singing the national anthem: “Whenever I sing this song, I feel like we’re good people.” Hearing Yujeong’s televised rendition made Eunsu especially delighted; once more before his own death, Yunsu desperately longs to hear Yujeong sing.
And so the two souls – both so damaged beyond their youth – meet, share, understand, and slowly begin to heal …
Over one million readers who bought Our Happy Time in Gong Ji-young’s native South Korea can’t be wrong, not to mention Gong has sold over ten million of her many books in just Korea alone making her one of the most acclaimed and successful (two traits that are sometimes mutually exclusive in the fickle literary world) among Korean writers. Her compatriot, the internationally mega-bestselling Kyung-sook Shin, has certainly begun serious inroads onto English-reading shelves, especially with her Please Look After Mom. Stay tuned: Time just pubbed Stateside this month … Gong’s success, too, with Western readers will hopefully prove to be inevitable.
Tidbit: According to the PR sheet sent with the galley, Time is Gong’s “first novel to be translated into English.” Perhaps that should be ‘… translated into English under the auspices of a major publisher [Marble Arch/Simon & Schuster]’? Because a quick search for other Gong titles-in-English turns up Human Decency, translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton (Bruce Fulton is a noted professor of Korean literature; his wife Ju-Chan is his frequent collaborator), published in 2006, and My Sister Bongsoon, translated by Park Jung-eun, published in 2010. Yup, I ordered both.
Tidbit2: For those in need of more Time, the novel went celluloid in 2006 with the English title, Maundy Thursday. In 2007, it got graphic with an absolutely visually stupendous Japanese manga adaptation (an online translated-into-English version is available here).
Published: 2005, 2014 (United States)