One of the most widely read and beloved stories of Choson-era Korea, the anonymously written tale—translated here into English for the first time—recounts the adventures of protagonist Cho Ung as he overcomes obstacles and grows into a heroic young man.
For the curious Anglophone reader of world literature, Cho Ung is a dramatic adventure filled with royal intrigue, swashbuckling wars, filial duties, multigenerational revenge—and, of course, a swooning love story ... To ensure a smooth, narrative experience, Cho makes reading the 138-page adventure straight through easily doable, clearly separating the story from additional information, keeping even footnotes relegated off the page until after the final line. Readers might close the book fully satisfied with a glimpse of vernacular fiction from another time, a faraway culture while digesting a bit of sociopolitical history. But beyond simply enjoying literature-in-translation, Cho’s contextual enhancements (totaling an additional almost-100 pages) are emphatically laudable as well as rewardingly readable. Her comprehensive introduction provides a treasure trove of exacting details about versions of the classic tale, a parsing of its factual and imagined elements, astute character studies, textual insights—undoubtedly illuminating for the casual reader, surely motivating for the academic scholar.
All...is delivered to us in a fluent, engaging translation by Sookja Cho, who teaches Korean at Arizona State University. She also supplies a fascinating introduction which fills in everything a Western reader needs, as well as quite copious end-notes which will satisfy scholars ... [Cho] has skilfully navigated the difficulties posed by a work that mixes didacticism and moralising with elements of poetry (there is quite a lot of this in the book) and the colloquial tone of an orally-transmitted story. It’s probably the latter which helps persuade readers that Cho Ung is a flesh-and-blood human being as well as a military hero and moral exemplar ... The Tale of Cho Ung is splendid entertainment, bildungsroman and a serious commentary on human morality all rolled into one, which makes it a book for all kinds of readers.
Sookja Cho's presentation of The Tale of Cho Ung is well-thought-out and very good ... The Introduction provides a good overview, and the translation is straightforward and accessible—with then a wealth of thorough endnotes (over 250 just for the 130-odd pages of text) explaining terminology and references, providing a welcome deeper layer of insight into the story. The Tale of Cho Ung feels a bit rough—perhaps a result of there being no single definitive version of the tale, making for something of a grab-bag feel to any arrangement—but it's a reasonably appealing adventure story. Certainly, it is of literary and historical interest; read in combination with the supporting material, there's a lot to be found in it beyond the mere story. It's certainly of some interest, and quick and short enough to make for a decent read even without close engagement with the endnotes.