Familiar Things by Hwang Sok-Yong
Literature , Review / 23/05/2017

Hwang Sok-Yong is a much celebrated and highly awarded South Korean novelist who has spent his career documenting life in both his country and North Korea. Familiar Things is the sixth of his many books to be translated into English, following last year’s publication of Princess Bari. That book used Korean mythology as the basis for an exploration of life in North Korea and the plight of Korean refugees. It had an international flavor. Familiar Things also has a fantastical element but is much more local. The action barely moves from a shanty town on the misnamed Flower Island and its focus is on the coming of age of Sok-Yong’s protagonist nicknamed Bugeye. When Familiar Things opens, fourteen year-old Bugeye and his mother are in the back of a garbage truck. They are moving from their slum in the city (presumably Seoul although the city is never named) to Flower Island, the city’s garbage dump. There they have a hastily erected slum dwelling built for them and join a gang of pickers. The pickers go out every morning and sort through the garbage that comes from the city, picking out items that can be resold, reused or recycled. This includes…