Shruti Mishra, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
‘At Dusk’ by Hwang Sok-yong is a very realistic view of today’s society that accommodates two very contrasting yet mutually respectful and cooperative worlds. One world belongs to today’s youth which is either all energetic and passionate about their dreams or which has lost its way. The second world belongs to traditionally driven older people who have been through every phase of their life and fought every battle. Their roller-coaster journey of life is near its end and there they stand reflecting upon the decisions they made.
In the novel, both these worlds get adequate representation with Jung Woo-hee, a 29-year-old playwright and director, and Park Min-woo representing the first section, and a successful architect adequately representing the second.
Jung Woo-hee is a struggling artist who juggles her dream work and a part-time job, barely getting time for proper food and rest. The struggle depicted in her life is very real and is portrayed without any romanticisation. It not only describes the widely prevalent culture of part-time jobs in Korea but also depicts the energetic nature and willingness of today’s youth to continue with their dreams despite such circumstances. Kim Min-woo too also belongs to the same world of youths but represents those who are aimless, who don’t have ambitions to live for, and who’ve become hollow from the inside. It is realistic characters like these in the novel, that become easily relatable to the readers and earn Hwang Sok-yong’s work plus points.
Apart from these two, the main character of the story is Park Min-woo, the Director of a renowned architectural firm, Hyeonsan Construction. The success attained by Mr. Park wasn’t offered to him served in a plate, rather he had to fight out many odds to reach where he is. However, since Mr. Park is a successful professional but not a happy family man, it’s upon the readers to decide how much Park’s fight for success has been worth and how far his decision to forget Cha Soona (the woman he was in love with) to attain a peacefully successful life, correct. In the end, it seems the success he ran after and the aspects of life he sought escape from, didn’t yield him anything except loneliness.
Thus, readers learn a very important lesson in the novel, they learn to acknowledge and respect everything they possess, the people in their lives, and the background to which they belong, because nothing can be ever enough. Staying connected to one’s roots is an important moral, readers learn from the story. They come to understand that respecting people in their personal lives and acknowledging their presence is as important as attaining success in their professional lives.
Apart from this, a crystal-clear view of Korean society has also been offered in the novel. A wide range of lifestyles of people in Korean society has been shown through a variety of characters. The lifestyles range from poor-class people to lower middle class and finally to upper-class society. As is the usual style of writing of the author to place his fictional characters into non-fictional society without any idealism, here too he doesn’t shy away from bringing out the class differences, though not vividly, prevalent in Korean society.
A decent portion in the novel has been devoted to the life in slum and usual brawls taking place among children there. This helps international readers to get familiar with ground realities of Korea which always get covered up with Korea’s scenic beauty.
The novel also needs to be appreciated for being a strong representative of that section of society that is always easily ignored, their lives considered useless and meaningless. The barbarity of life these people have to face and the everyday battles they have to fight are described in great detail in the novel. Heart-wrenching details of the conditions poor and middle-class people are forced to sustain their lives in, are put in front of the readers quite vividly which speaks a great deal about the lifestyles of these people.
Among all this, the author also provides a clear description of scenes as barbarous as the destruction of slums only to build new apartments. This description reflects the loopholes that exist in the field of ‘Architecture’. On one occasion when Mr. Park Min-woo has to visit his hometown Yeongsan, he is surprised at the development his hometown has undergone. The face of the town is such that he can’t be sure of whether he’s taking the right direction. The dilapidated state of his own house that was there when he visited fifteen years ago was completely demolished this time and it was as if he and his parents never really existed. This underlines the importance of something Park’s colleague, Mr. Ki young once said. He said, “Architecture is not the destruction of memory, it is the delicate restructuring of people’s lives on top of a sketch of those memories. We have already failed horribly at achieving that dream”.
Why One Should Read This?
Here, the selfless nature of the author to fulfill his obligation as an internationally read writer is quite evident and thus, he puts harsh realities of society in front of his readers without using any ornamented language. This gives the readers an excuse to fall in love with the novel all the more.
Finally, some life lessons and teachings offered at frequent intervals by Hwang Sok-yong to his readers serve well the purpose of reading a book. For instance, statements like, “We all like to think that our own stories of a difficult childhood and overcoming adversity are the stuff of tragic epic, but they are never really worth bragging about” are some words of wisdom imparted upon readers. Hence, a glimpse of magnanimous intellect in the story adds the novel, ‘At Dusk’ to the ‘must reads’ lists of the readers.