From one of South Korea's foremost writers, an examination of the darker side of modernization through the micro-society of a rubbish dump and a haunting reminder to us all to be careful of what we throw away.
Hwang mounts a pointed critique of the economic and political paradigms of the [Korean] peninsula ... For a reader less familiar with the political history of the region, Hwang’s critiques are doubly illuminating. They bring into focus many of the systemic ills that plague South Korea, which have long been overshadowed by the more blatant and gloomy realities to the north. Rather than depicting a glittering utopia nestled next to a barren nightmare, as the contrast is often portrayed in the West, Hwang fleshes out a much more honest and uncomfortable vision of the dispersion of tyranny throughout the peninsula ... Its stark treatment of alienation and subjugation makes the book compelling reading, even if its precise genre is unclear. On the one hand, Flower Island really was a major municipal landfill on the edge of Seoul ... On the other hand, the presence of the dokkaebi [spirits] and the overall picaresque tone lend an air of surreality to an otherwise grittily realistic tale ... Familiar Things is a cautionary tale, both a mirror and a portent for our own world. Yet, though it is a tragic tale, it is also a defiantly optimistic one ... the inhabitants of Flower Island live one day at a time, adapting, helping one another, and finding those familiar things that make life worth living—in short: building a new world out of the rotten husks of the old.
...a powerful and potentially contentious reminder of the difficult backstory to South Korean success ... Familiar Things resonates with today’s political moment even though it is set in the early 1980s ... Hwang has wrestled with the challenge of North Korea as both a novelist and a progressive activist.
...one of South Korea’s most venerated novelists urgently examines the darker side of modernisation through the micro-society of a rubbish dump ... The novel’s most impassioned passages depict garbage as a social phenomenon, the visible evidence of capitalism ... Familiar Things is not particularly notable for vividly rendered detail, singular language or voice. But the measure of a novel is not only its artful telling, but also the power and value of the story being told.