Saturday, November 26, 2016

G675 Book Review of Rina by Kang Young-sook

Name of Book: Rina (Rina)

Author: Kang Young-Sook, Kim Boram (Translator)

ISBN: 978 1 62897 115 6

Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press

Type of book: North Korea, China, concrete, prostitution, sex, friendship, loyalty, sacrificing life, murder, modern times, chemicals, progress

Year it was published: 2015 (originally in 2011)


Rina is a defector from a country that might be North Korea, traversing an "empty and futile" landscape. Along the way, she is forced to work at a chemical plant, murders a few people, becomes a prostitute, runs a lucrative bar, and finds a solace in a motley family of wanderers all as disenfranchised as she. Brutal and unflinching, with elements of the mythic and grotesque interspersed with hard-edged realism, Rina is a pioneering work of Korean postmodernism.


Main characters include Rina, a young woman who is sixteen in beginning and is from the country of M (maybe North Korea?) who is traveling to the country of P (possibly China, I would guess?) with her family. She is a pathological liar, someone who cannot or is unable to connect to people easily, but at the same time she shows a very strange loyalty to an old woman who cannot take care of herself as well as to Pii and the girl from the sewing factory. The old woman was a singer whom Rina had met and seems to have nine lives of the cat. Pii is Rina's friend/son/lover and he is definitely the oddest in the small group and I'm not sure what to make of him.


There is little to no mobility in life


The story is in third person narrative from Rina's point of view. What really stands out in my mind is when Rina was living in the city that focused on nothing but the people working endlessly, much to the detriment of their lives, ultimately. I also found the story of when she was living in a prostitution town a sort of utopia, which was odd because one would think honest work would give dignity and respect and goodwill, but it seemed as if the author decided to reverse the two; prostitution town is the one where one can be happy, and the concrete town equals unhappiness.

Author Information:
(From the book)

Kang Young-Sook was born in Chuncheon, Gangwondo, and graduated from the Seoul Institute of the Arts. She attended the University of Iowa's International Writing Program and ahs served as an advisory member of the Korea Dialogue Academy since 1990

Kim Boram was born in Massachusetts. Her first translated work was Kim Yeon-su's shrot story "The Five Pleasures of Walking." SHe is currently working toward her PhD in English at UCLA


I'm not sure if I understood the story correctly, or if I get what is going on. Yes, I have read the book from cover to cover. and while I understood some of the messages and story that the author was attempting to tell, namely that of the life the immigrants from a third world country experience when they come over to either first or third world country, but I feel as if its not enough. When I read it, I felt as if I was reading of something about death and concrete where life of third world immigrants mixed in an ugly mixture, because that's what the book and the story felt: ugly. Not in language or stylistic sense, but in deeds and the feeling of hopelessness that permeated the story. There seemed very little beauty and much ugliness among the people as well as how the third world immigrants with little to no voice were used by others with lofty aspirations.

This was given to me by Dalkey Archive for an honest review

3 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)


  1. Country of M and P? Hmm, that's interesting.
    It looks like this book was a bit dense or perhaps unclear. Sometimes I finish a book too and don't feel like I "got" what it was trying to say. I used to blame myself for not getting it, but it can't always be the reader. Sometimes the book itself is flawed.

  2. Yeah, very true. The book reminded me a bit of Serial Experiments Lain; there is a plot but it makes little to no sense. Other books in Dalkey series are pretty good :) when I will have some free time, I should really make a list of multicultural books I reviewed on my blog

  3. Book about a girl who escapes from North Korea. The girl, Rina, is very strong and beautiful. Unforgettable character, and I miss her already :( I hate that the book is too short.


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