The Human Jungle

Cho Chongnae

translated from the Korean
Chin Music Press 2016
A book review by Danny Yee © 2017 http://dannyreviews.com/
The Human Jungle is set in the cutthroat world of modern Chinese business, with Korean and Japanese expatriates as its major protagonists. I ended up reading only the first third of it (the first book of its original publication as a trilogy, in Korean in 2014), but am reviewing it anyway, because this kind of less-literary popular novel rarely gets translated and probably won't get much attention in translation, even though Cho Chongnae's novels are best-selling blockbusters in Korea.

First, some of the downsides. The characters are not entirely stereotypes, but they do lack much depth. They include a broad range of figures — a plastic surgeon, managers, industrialists, students, and poor migrant workers from western China — but the ones closer to Chongnae's own experiences seem more convincing. And the social commentary rarely transcends broad generalisation. Much of it consists of inserted explanations, some of them given to characters as dialogue, but mostly just inserted into the text as asides, only half-anchored in the story.

"Japan had stopped making disposable lighters twenty years ago, unable to compete with the cheap Korean versions flooding its markets. Korea underwent the same process, the rise in domestic labour costs weakening its competitive edge while China quickly mastered the simple know-how. It was a natural business cycle, like water flowing downhill, eventually to evaporate."

On the plus side The Human Jungle is an easy read, the background information is often interesting, the setting is quite involving, and the story moves along at a good clip. A particularly striking feature is the way Cho plays off the different Korean, Chinese and Japanese ways of doing business — and more generally of approaching life — without any kind of European perspective.

March 2017

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%T The Human Jungle
%A Cho Chongnae
%M Korean
%F Fulton, Bruce
%F Fulton, Ju-Chan
%I Chin Music Press
%D 2016
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781634059107
%P 432pp