Published by Atria Books/Marble Arch Press on 2014-07-01
Genres: Fiction, General, Historical, Literary
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Already a wildly popular bestseller in South Korea, this gripping and passionate debut novel is a death row love story of crime, punishment, and forgiveness; vividly told by the exquisitely talented Gong Ji-young.
Yu-Jung, beautiful, wealthy, and bright, is lying in her hospital bed, recovering from her third suicide attempt, when she receives a life-changing visit. Her no-nonsense aunt, a nun, appears by her side and suggests Yu-Jung accompany her on a charitable visit to death row. At her lowest ebb, Yu-Jung is resistant. But something compels her to go to the prison. There she meets Yun-Soo, a convicted murderer who will soon be put to death. Though she is repulsed by his crimes, something about the depth of his suffering strikes a chord in her. Shaken by their encounter, she returns to visit him the next week. And the next.
Through their weekly, hour-long meetings, Yu-Jung and Yun-Soo slowly reveal to each other the dark secrets of their pasts and the hidden traumas that have shaped their lives. In doing so they form a deep, unbreakable bond, helping one another overcome their demons. But Yun-Soo's hands are always in cuffs, the prison officers are always in the background, and they can never lose sight of the fact that their happy time together is tragically brief.
Gracefully poetic and ideal for fans of Kyung-Sook Shin's Please Look After Mother, Our Happy Time is a passionate and heartbreaking love story as well as an important, hard-hitting, and compassionate fable.
This has been the year of delicate, perfect, death-row stories for me. Stories that gripped me and held tight, even when I was crying angry tears and railing against the injustice of it all. OUR HAPPY TIME by Gong Ji-young is the perfect knitting together of the stories of two people who could not be more different: Yujeung and Yunsu. My initial impression is that both of these characters were young, but as the story develops it is revealed that they are, in fact, adults. The rich development and emotional tension of this book depends on that age, so don’t let initial impressions fool you.
OUR HAPPY TIME is told in two alternating narratives. Yunsu’s “Blue Notes” usually have a relevant quote at the start of them and, by contract, Yujeung’s journal is a bit more detached and shows a perspective that’s set a bit away from the emotion of the story. What connects both of their stories, however, is one of the best characters in the book, Yujeung’s Aunt Monica. Monica is a nun who has made it her mission to visit those on death-row and try to bring them to a place where they can make peace with their lives and those who are still in it.
Secrets and dark pasts are revealed, both in Yunsu and Yujeung’s lives – and even Monica and Yujeung’s family come into play. The differences between the rich and the poor are marginalized as two people who suffered from similar circumstances have to face life (and in Yunsu’s case, death) with a shrugging off of their burdens. I’m not going to lie, you will reach a point half-way in the story where hope steps in and you start to think, improbably, that your hope will be enough to change the course of events. Let me warn you, don’t let that hope overshadow what is happening in the story because I almost did and almost lost sight of what was really beautiful here.
OUR HAPPY TIME is a deceptive name for this book, I think. It fits, but not in the way you would think it would fit. I loved the look into life in South Korea and I always appreciate any book that makes me think, hard, on what I value in my life. It makes me realize just how privileged I am and how much I could be doing with that privilege, and it makes me want to learn more and teach more and love more.
Check out these reviews!
- “This is definitely not a novel to miss out on. Even though it is hard to read at times, it is also a beautifully written book about a subject often overlooked. It will make you question your opinions, make you appreciate your life and loved ones, and even give you a hope that anyone can be forgiven.“ - Novelicious
- “This is one book that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. I won’t forget the characters.” - Random Book Muses