Almond by Won-Pyung Sohn

Almond by Won Pyung Sohn

“I was just unlucky. Luck plays a huge part in all the unfairness of the world. Even more than you’d expect.”

Almond is a debut novel by South Korean novelist Won-Pyung Sohn. Set in contemporary time in Seoul, it is a coming of age story of Yunjae who was born with Alexithymia, a brain condition which makes him difficult to identify and express emotions.

The amygdalas, the almond-shape set of neurons located in Yunjae’s brain, are small and not seem to be growing. Because of his inability to show emotion, he doesn’t have friends at school. He lives with his mother and grandmother in a house attached with a bookstore. Yunjae’s mother made post-it notes and pictures to teach him about human expressions and how to response in standard situations so that he could fit in into everyday’s situations and not get picked on. While Yunjae is going out with his mother and grandma on his 16th birthday, a random person in the street gets violent and forces him to live on his own.

Gon, a troubled teenager transferred to Yunjae’s school. Due to the complicated relationship with his father, Gon lashes out at everything. He’s more annoyed by Yunjae’s unbothered reactions so he bullies him. Yunjae still feels pain but he just can’t display and it gets more intense. Gon wants to be strong and believes being unemotional is strength. Later, curious about Yunjae’s emotionlessness, he attempts to befriend with him outside the school. With no one to teach him about new emotions, Yunjae also accepts Gon and tries to understand him. When they begin to get along with each other, one small incident leads to another and threatens the lives of both boys.

My absolute favourite part of this novel is collocation of two different characters each having their own contradicting characteristics. Yunjae can be emotionless in appearance but he is very articulate when it comes to expressing his opinions. On the other hand, Gon who has intense emotions and easily bursts out with anger frequently is poor in expressive conversations. The juxtaposition of these two characters fascinates me the most in the entire story.

The book is translated from Korean to English by Joosun Lee. It allows the reader traverses in the theme of family, friendship, loss, and compassion. In simple and crisp narrative, the writer delivers the protagonist’s life accurately. However, it seems to be a bit unconvincing in certain parts when it is to illustrate the growth of Yunjae’s character. The statements or incidents aren’t cogent enough, I suppose. Unsure if it is the translation or the original writing. Nonetheless, it is a very heartwarming and soul stirring read. Those who loves books like Wonder and the Perks of Being a Wallflower might enjoy this book, as well.

[SPOILER]

Though the last chapter is a tad too optimistic for me personally, the epilogue kinda save the ending, I guess. Yes, life takes on various flavours as it flows but I think it is good to end with a positive note. Sometimes, we need to be sanguine in this shitty world, right?


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