The Descendants of Cain

Hwang Sun-won

translated from the Korean
East Gate 1997
A book review by Danny Yee © 2004
In Korea, the end of the Second World War also brings the end of thirty five years of Japanese occupation and the start of a massive political upheaval. Landowner Hun, the protagonist of The Descendants of Cain, watches on helplessly as his village is torn apart by communist land reform, with the landowners struggling to survive and their tenants scrambling to get as much as they can. Hun is supported by Ojaknyo, the woman who loves him — and whom he loves, though he can't acknowledge it to himself, let alone to her — but her father and brother take different sides in the conflict.

The Descendants of Cain offers a snapshot of an epochal moment in Korean history, as experienced in one village over a few weeks. Political events drive everything in it, but Hwang Sun-Won is interested not in ideologies or the political process, but in the reactions of individuals and the effects on their relationships. His short novel is a simple but powerful tale of love, loyalty, opportunism and greed.

October 2004

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Related reviews:
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- more Korean literature
%T The Descendants of Cain
%A Hwang Sun-won
%M Korean
%F Suh Ji-Mon
%F Pickering, Julie
%I East Gate
%D 1997
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0765601370
%P 181pp