Friend: Book summary and reviews of Friend by Paek Nam-nyong

Friend

A Novel from North Korea

by Paek Nam-nyong

Friend by Paek Nam-nyong X
Friend by Paek Nam-nyong
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Book Summary

Paek Nam-nyong's Friend is a tale of marital intrigue, abuse, and divorce in North Korea.

A woman in her thirties comes to a courthouse petitioning for a divorce. As the judge who hears her statement begins to investigate the case, the story unfolds into a broader consideration of love and marriage. The novel delves into its protagonists' past, describing how the couple first fell in love and then how their marriage deteriorated over the years. It chronicles the toll their acrimony takes on their son and their careers alongside the story of the judge's own marital troubles.

A best-seller in North Korea, where Paek continues to live and write, Friend illuminates a side of life in the DPRK that Western readers have never before encountered. Far from being a propagandistic screed in praise of the Great Leader, Friend describes the lives of people who struggle with everyday problems such as marital woes and workplace conflicts. Instead of socialist-realist stock figures, Paek depicts complex characters who wrestle with universal questions of individual identity, the split between public and private selves, the unpredictability of existence, and the never-ending labor of maintaining a relationship. This groundbreaking translation of one of North Korea's most popular writers offers English-language readers a page-turner full of psychological tension as well as a revealing portrait of a society that is typically seen as closed to the outside world.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

BookBrowse Review
"While I personally found Friend to be worthwhile, and the story and characters are in themselves very intriguing, the execution is a bit lackluster and it's difficult to maintain a consistent level of interest throughout. English language reviews that speak highly of the book seem to be, at least partially, viewing it as a cultural artifact (as it's the first English translation of a novel from a North Korean author who isn't a dissident), and perhaps are also taking into account the political atmosphere in which it was written. While I understand the approach of reviewing it in this larger context, it seems perhaps a bit condescending to do so. It is still a significant translation that many readers of English will likely find valuable, but I wouldn't recommend it enthusiastically to a general reading audience." - Elisabeth Cook

Other Reviews
"With still so little known about the North Korean people beyond mostly tortuous escapee narratives, Kim enables a rare, welcome glimpse into 'a messy world of human emotions and relationships that is at once entirely alien and eerily familiar.'" - Booklist (starred review)

"Paek weaves themes of greed, corruption, and self-sacrifice into a subtle, restrained narrative that becomes nothing less than a paean to the family: society's most valued unit...A rare glimpse into an insular world." - Kirkus Reviews

"Friend depicts daily life in North Korean society. The psychology of human relationships evoked in this fascinating novel shows that North Koreans, far from being brainwashed robots, are as fragile as people everywhere―that they too simply want to be happy together, and suffer intensely when things go wrong." - Brother Anthony, Sogang University

"The publication of Immanuel Kim's painstaking translation of Paek Nam-nyong's Friend is a significant event. It promises to shift the focus away from those texts that simply confirm our preconceived notions about the DPRK toward a subtler and more informed consideration of literary practices there." - Travis Workman, University of Minnesota

This information about Friend was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Paek Nam-nyong

Paek Nam-nyong is one of the most renowned writers in North Korea today. He was born in 1949 in Hamhŭng and worked in a steel factory for many years before enrolling at Kim Il Sung University. He worked in the Writer's Union and later joined the elite group of writers called April 15th Literary Production Unit.

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