Saturday, July 08, 2006

괭이부리말 아이들

I've finished the novel my Korean tutor gave me, 괭이부리말 아이들 (Gwaengiburimal Children). Gwaengiburimal - I'm not sure if it's fictional or not - is a poor, dirty, industrial neighborhood in or near Incheon. The book is about kids dealing with parental abandonment, drunkeness, and drug abuse, and some adults who try to help them.

I got the feeling it's not world-class fiction - one character's death was very obviously telegraphed to the point I was thinking, "well, I hope he at least dies quick" - but it was excellent reading experience for me, I thought.

Some thoughts about the Korean language that I had. In the book, Sook-ja and Sook-hee are twin girls. Sook-ja was born first. For this reason, the girls' parents are known as "Sook-ja's mother" and "Sook-ja's father". As far as I can figure, they have no other names in the book. This wasn't a new phenomenon to me - I used to know a Mr. Park, and his wife, who was always "Mr. Park's wife" and I never knew her family name. But it's interesting that Sook-ja won out over Sook-hee to be the person whose name her parents were known by, just because she was a few minutes older.

Another linguistic bit - Koreans sometimes use the word for "rice" to mean "food" in a generic way. Kind of like how "bread" is sometimes generic "food" in Western culture - think of "daily bread", "bread and circuses", and so on. So if a hungry kid is described as eating "two bowls of rice", is he really just downing two ordinary bowls of white rice and calling it a meal? Or is he eating something more interesting? Most of the characters in this book are pretty poor, so maybe he really is just eating two bowls of rice.

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