Published by: University of Hawaii Press
Imprint: University of Hawaii Press
Sales Date: 2023-04-30
Published: April 2023
264 Pages, 139.00 x 215.00 x 0.70 in
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Atmospheric and fast-paced, this novel of manners set in a provincial South Korean city leads readers through the silent corridors of a school for hearing-impaired children and the city’s foggy back streets and murky centers of power to a stirring courtroom climax. Gong Ji-young’s Togani (The Crucible), published in Korean in 2009, is based on a historic case of child sexual abuse at a state-run institution. The novel went on to sell nearly a million copies and, along with a 2011 film adaptation directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, prompted the South Korean National Assembly to pass the “Togani Laws” to provide greater legal protections for children and vulnerable adults under state care and harsher penalties for those convicted of their abuse. At a time when Korean popular culture drives cultural production worldwide, Togani reminds us of the power of fiction to effect meaningful societal change.
A story of courage in the face of corruption, Togani offers nuanced portraits of a failed young businessman seeking a new life as a teacher and his counterpart, a young woman committed to a career in human rights; a police officer of humble origins who rose through the ranks as he turns a blind eye to the abuse of students by the school’s administrators; and a hearing-impaired teenage girl, a victim of that abuse, who cares deeply for the other children at the school. The book testifies to the legacy of neo-Confucian class conflict, gender disparity, and the vulnerability of those near the bottom of the social ladder. It is a heart-wrenching and provocative work that helped bring about change to a system it dared to challenge.
Togani is an exposé of an evil present in Korean society and a testament to the goodness of those who rise up against it. Gong Ji-young’s powerful novel about abuse at a school for deaf children was picked up by translators Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton, whose lengthy list of field-defining works includes numerous stories of trauma: We are fortunate to have this story told in English through their expert translation. Readers will find themselves agonizing over scenes of brutality yet uplifted by the power of the writing and the hope for justice. Ji-Eun Lee, Washington University, St. Louis
Another eloquent and compelling translation from Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton, Togani should be required reading for everyone interested in contemporary Korea, gender-based violence, disability and human rights, and broader struggles for justice. Gong Ji-young’s courageous novel and its film adaptation led to important transformations in Korea’s legal system; its translation should inspire communities globally to make necessary changes to ensure the well-being of our most vulnerable. Karen L. Thornber, Harvard University