Wednesday, March 30, 2016
The Story of Hong Gildong a Korean Folktale
The Kirkus Reviews says "If you read only one book about courageous Korean Outlaws this should be the one". https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/minsoo-kang/the-story-of-hong-gildong/
Now in case you missed the big circular icon on the front cover this is a new translation of a very old, very epic, Korean Folktale. Hong Gildong is to the Koreans what Jesse James is to Americans. He's the Robin Hood of their culture and in true Korean style the story is epic and the language is dramatic. Take for example the scene of Gildong's birth.
'And so time passed, through ten lunar months, until a day came when a tempest blew, fierce rain poured down, and a fragrant air filled the house. Chunseom gave birth to a precious boy whose face was the color of snow and whose presence was as grand as the autumn moon. He was born with the appearance of a great hero.'
It's no secret that I enjoy Korean horror films and I enjoy different types of mixed media from many different Asian cultures but nothing compares to Korea when it comes to story telling. This is especially true with this book. I was promised a tale of outlaw proportions and once again they delivered. The battle scenes alone are enough to drive you to read this book over and over again. Throw in the social drama of him being a lowborn illegitimate son of a high minister and his dissatisfaction with his place in that society and you have all the making of a story that surpasses anything the western culture has managed to drum up. That's right I said it, Hong Gildong may be touted in western culture as the Korean Robin Hood but I'm telling you his story is BETTER than that one. You don't have to be a scholar of Korean history or culture to understand all the layers of this story thanks to the new introduction and the translation notes provided by Minsoo Kang in the back of the book. I will say this I read this story first without reading the introduction or the notes to see if I could follow and understand the story without any help. My reasoning behind this was simple if I could read the story without the help of the introduction or the notes then the story was good on it's own. It was I enjoyed it immensely without the added help from the introduction or the notes. I read it a second time with the introduction and the translation notes and what I got in that second read was worlds better than just reading the story. Minsoo does a wonderful job of educating us on the state of the society and the historical references that existed in Joseon Korea at this time. Having a working understanding of these elements enhances, rather than detracts, from the overall story. Unlike the stories of King Arthur or even Robin Hood there is no misinformation about whether this story is rooted in fact. The author Minsoo Kang lets us know up front that this is a clear work of fiction and as such it's considered one of the very finest examples of popular fiction from the 18th century.
I've read some of the other reviews that mention that the language is clunky and a bit awkward to read but I didn't find that to be the case. I found the language easy to follow and while it's true some of the language is different from how we speak in America I didn't find that to be a problem. If you've watched any type of foreign film or read any literature from the Asian cultures you'll do just fine with this translation and in fact I found it easier to follow than most current Manga or Anime that I've read and seen before.
I would encourage anyone who loves a good underdog triumph story to give this one a read. Minsoo gives us a beautiful piece of fiction that transcends the fantastical and teaches us something real. The only thing that could make this better is if they had a sequel.