Book Review: FAMILIAR THINGS by Hwang Sok-Yong


By Hwang Sok-Yong


Seoul. On the outskirts of South Korea’s glittering metropolis is a place few people know about: a vast landfill site called Flower Island. Home to those driven from the city by poverty, is it here that 13-year-old Bugeye and his mother arrive, following his father’s internment in a government ‘re-education camp’.

Living in a shack and supporting himself by weeding recyclables out of the refuse, at first Bugeye’s life on Flower Island is hard. But then one night he notices mysterious lights around the landfill. And when the ancient spirits that still inhabit the island’s landscape reveal themselves to him, Bugeye’s luck begins to change – but can it last?

Vibrant and enchanting, Familiar Things depicts a society on the edge of dizzying economic and social change, and is a haunting reminder to us all to be careful of what we throw away.


This book was… whoah. It reads like a dystopia (people scrounging out a living on a garbage dump island while the city sends helicopters flying over to release poison to kill the swarming flies, while kids play under the spray!) but of course this is real, and a place that existed in Seoul not all that long ago (and similar places obviously exist the world over).

This book has elements of magical realism but is mostly very grounded. In fact, it is the type of straight forward blunt book that you read these events in such a matter of fact way, and it takes you a moment to realise how awful everything is for these characters! But the characters themselves just continue getting on with their everyday lives. I think that is what makes this story so devastating, the simple way it is presented when really it is so utterly heartbreaking.

This is my second book by this author and I think he is wonderful (but gosh do his books pack an emotional punch!)

I definitely recommend it, but be warned, despite its simplicity, it is the kind of book that really hurts.

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