Korean culture

The boy who felt, “Can you use the word ‘love’ so carelessly?”

How does it feel to be emotionless? Pain, love, happiness, fear. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we want to run away from ourselves and not worry about being overly emotional. Imagine one day in life when you are devoid of emotions and perceive events, assessing the situation with your mind, not your heart. How many things you neglect, how many people you will not be able to understand, and most importantly, you will feel how the distance between you and others is growing.

The debut novel by Korean writer Song Won Pyung “Almond,” consists of four parts, each of which can be divided into the protagonist’s life periods.

The first part is a kind of acquaintance with the main character, his childhood memories, and the moment when everyone found out about “it”. The novel’s protagonist is an 18-year-old Yunjae, who begins his story, emphasizing that he is not entirely sure whether this story has a happy or sad ending. At the age of 6, the boy was diagnosed with alexithymia – a mental condition in which a person cannot detect and recognize emotions. Yunjae’s family consists of his mother and grandmother, who try hard to help him adapt to society. Hint stickers are hung around the house to give the boy an understanding of the kinds of emotions and how to respond to them correctly and behave like everyone else. In order to successfully coexist in Korean society, it is essential not to be different from others, that is, to be “normal”.

“Don’t stand out is all you need to do”

Photo: Book from Anastasia’s personal library

In the second part of the book, the protagonist is forced to face the realities of adult life. Yunjae is left without the support and love of those who always held his hand and read books aloud to him. Spending a lot of time in the shop with old books, which have now become his main shelter, Yunjae starts rethinking the meanings of many words because they are his only helpers while communicating with people.

 “Maybe understanding a language is like understanding the expressions and emotions of other people.”

Yunjae meets his first friend in high school. Gon is a sincere boy with a tough destiny who tries to resist his essence, denying his inner “I”. The paradox of their relationship is the complete opposition of their personalities and the desire to have what another person has. In the book, Gon wants to be emotionless and constantly says that it is better to hurt others than to be hurt. Fear is one of those emotions inaccessible to Yunjae, but the lack of fear affects many of his actions and allows him to understand himself and others better.

“Fear is an instinctive defense mechanism necessary for survival. Not knowing fear doesn’t mean that you’re brave; it means you’re stupid enough to stay standing on the road when a car is charging toward you”.

The novel’s third part is the most touching one because Yunjae falls in love. Even for a boy with an inability to understand emotions, there comes the time when he wants to trust someone without thinking about the consequences.

“Almond” is a book in which the events that influence the story’s development constantly resonate with the seasons. For instance, the most pleasant protagonist’s emotions are definitely associated with sunny summer days. A tragic accident that changes Yunjae’s life occurs on a snowy December day. Spring, according to the boy, is the period when he most acutely feels how different he is from others. While late autumn allows the protagonist to show himself in a new way, and for the first time, he really manages to cry and laugh.

Photo: Book from Anastasia’s personal library

Observing the writer’s newborn baby inspired her in the creation of the boys’ characters from the novel. Doubts overcame her as to whether she would be able to recognize her child after years of separation or find the strength to accept them, in case they will grow up without meeting her expectations. These thoughts of the author led to the creation of such an unusual and sensual story about how «love is what makes a person human, as well as what makes a monster».

Author Anastasiia Malakhova