Another Man's City

Ch'oe In-ho

translated from the Korean
Dalkey Archive Press 2014
A book review by Danny Yee © 2016
When K is woken up by the alarm clock on Saturday morning, he immediately realises something is wrong, because he never sets an alarm on weekend mornings. And all kinds of other things are not right: someone has switched his aftershave from V to Y, his daughter's puppy doesn't recognise him and bites him on the leg, and his wife is wearing his pyjamas. And then there's a missing hour and a half in his memories of the previous night, when he went out drinking with his friend H, and his phone is missing...

The events of the weekend — his sister-in-law's wedding, a meeting to have his phone returned, a meet up with H, a visit to a sister he hasn't seen for years — only add to his confusion. He keeps seeing the same people in different roles and places, things have unexpected smells, and he lusts after his sister. Is he suffering from Capgras delusion, perhaps the result of a forgotten trauma the previous night? Or is he stuck in some kind of simulation where the details aren't quite right? And if the latter, could there be other copies of him? There are additional questions for the reader, such as how K can maintain his equanimity in the face of all of this.

The mechanics of what is going on are, however, just background in Another Man's City. Its premise is used as a disjointing tool for prying apart the fabric of a life, exploring the threads of identity and destiny in K's alternative histories. Sex and religion play prominent parts in this, and Ch'oe keeps K firmly connected to his familial and social settings. And the stage is the very real city of Seoul and some of its seedier, lesser-known areas.

The result is accessible and engaging. The uneasiness of the protagonist and the uncertainty of his world are not reflected in any plot complexities: the story proceeds at a brisk pace, and if the reader doesn't know what is ultimately going on any more than K does, they are never left needing to worry about it too much. Unmistakeably Korean while avoiding traditional focuses on politics and cultural change completely, Another Man's City is one of my favourite contemporary Korean novels — and my pick of the Dalkey Archive Press' "Library of Korean Literature" series so far.

November 2016

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%T Another Man's City
%A Ch'oe In-ho
%M Korean
%F Fulton, Bruce
%F Fulton, Ju-chan
%I Dalkey Archive Press
%D 2014 [2011]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781628971019
%P 190pp