Thursday, January 12, 2023

Book Review: Almond

The recent Christmas holiday gave me a chance to read the books on my TBR pile. One of those books is Almond by Sohn Wonpyung. I only knew of this book from watching the first season of BTS’ In the Soop. RM and SUGA read this book in the show, with the latter seeming to highlight lines from the book so many times. I was curious about what it was all about, so I had to get my copy. 

Image Credit: Harper Collins

The book is from the point of view of the main character, Yunjae, who was born with a brain condition that prevents him from feeling emotions. Growing up, he had his mother and grandmother to support him, guiding him through the emotions that he cannot feel or understand in the hopes that he would be able to live and relate to others despite his condition. Sadly, on his birthday, both of his guardians become victims of a violent attack that kills his grandmother and leaves his mother in a coma, leaving him to learn for himself how to live in a world that does not understand his condition.

It is when Yunjae is on his own that he learns from the people around him. He becomes friends with Gon, a wild child with a troubled past, and Dora, an aspiring track and field athlete. Of the two friendships, I found myself drawn more to Yunjae’s friendship with Gon than with Dora. I thought that having a character like Gon helped to emphasize Yunjae’s condition more. Here was a boy who felt nothing, faced with another who felt everything and yet tried so hard to show that nothing affected him at all. Their opposite characters drew them to each other: Gon wonders what it would be like to not feel like Yunjae and Yunjae is curious about how it is to feel as much as this boy does. It may seem like an unusual friendship, but I could understand how it could work from how each of their scenes together played out in the book. 

Yunjae’s friendship with Dora, on the other hand, left me a bit confused. He is someone that cannot feel, then when he met Dora, he started to feel a crush on her. I felt that somehow Dora was in the story as a plot device to show that he is starting to feel because the character moves to another school once that happens. It also left me with questions, particularly about the medical aspect of his condition. Could he really start to get better? Was that even plausible? The same goes for how conveniently his mother woke up from her coma just as Yunjae was getting better.

It was a bit difficult for me to read this book. Having it narrated from Yunjae’s point of view meant that it was lacking in the emotional aspect of it, even if was understandable given what the story of the main character was about. Since this is a book translated into English from Korean, I would have to wonder if there are things about the book that were lost in translation. Sometimes the context of a scene was lacking because of that. I know from experience that there are words in my language that do not have direct English translations either, especially if you are lacking in knowledge of the cultural significance of certain words/phrases. 

Being a book in Korean and written with a Korean audience in mind, there were no explanations about certain aspects of the characters’ life concerning their being Korean. I know there are books where if the writer or the characters were not western there tends to be this long glossary of terms that the reader could refer to, and sometimes the authors provide long explanations of certain things within the story. I do not feel the need for writers to do this. I am the type of reader who prefers learning about these things on my own. If I do not understand a term or why a certain character’s beliefs are a certain way because of their culture, I would look it up myself. I do not want everything explained to me. It is part of the adventure of reading to learn about these things myself. I liked that this book was the type that did not have to explain itself or the culture of the characters in it. 

I did not hate this book, but I am not sure that I liked it either. There were moving and thought-provoking moments, but I am not sure how memorable they would be for me overall. The first part of the book was OK because I breezed through it in one sitting, but finishing the book was a tiring process for me. I had to force myself to finish it. It was not that bad, but I will not be raving about it either. 


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