Getting ahead in the South Korea of 1978 depends above all on family connections and education. We see this clearly in the opening section. Sunam wants to please his family and get a comfortable life. Education is the answer and the most prestigious group to help him succeed is The Circle. He may not like what he has to do, but he listens to his mentor, Juno, because he wants the life style.
The main characters in this novel, Jisum and Namin, personify this conflict but in radically different ways. Jasum is the daughter of a wealthy business man. She has all the opportunities for success in a prestigious university, but money means little, and she becomes an activist. Namin is the opposite. Her family is poor. She and Jisum became friends when she won a place in Jisum’s private school. Now Namin and Jasum are both at university, but Namin is only interested in studying, hoping to better the life of her family. Both young women become involved with Sunam and The Circle for an intriguing plot.
The setting is unusual. I enjoyed learning about South Korea and the tensions that drove the young people in the 70’s. The characters are well done. The women, Jisum and Namin, are better developed than the male characters. However, the story is mostly about them, so the lack of definition in Sunam’s character is understandable.
The plot and the tension between the characters is well done and keeps you reading. Although the writing is good, it isn’t literary fiction quality. However, since this is the author’s first novel, it may improve. I enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone who wants a different type of historical fiction.
I received this book from Random House for this review.