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At Least We Can Apologize (Library of Korean Literature) Paperback – 18 Feb 2014

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4 out of 5 stars 5 reviews from the U.S.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Dalkey Archive Press (18 Feb. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1564789195
  • ISBN-13: 978-1564789198
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.8 x 21.3 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 332,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program) 4.0 out of 5 stars 5 reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Mindfully apologetic 22 Aug. 2016
By M. T. Crenshaw - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
“The world is full of wrongs upon wrongs, so there’ll be something else that he can apologize for.” (loc. 1277-1278).

At Least we Can Apologize (사과는 잘해요) is a Korean short novel by one of Korea's more original contemporary writers, Lee Ki-ho (or I Ki-ho)

The novel is narrated in the first person by Jin-man. He and Si-bong look at the world with surprise, bewilderment and innocence, in a primeval sort of way. They show a quite Zen way of being, as they live in a succession of moments lived mostly in the present. The two friends seem to accept what life throws at them, trying to adapt the best they can, and don't hold a grudge towards anything or anybody. They can see people's wrongdoings, the bad things done to them, but they seem to accept the harshness of life with matter-of-fact stoicism, without fighting back actively, but also without labelling or judging other people for their actions, not even those who mistreat and abuse them. This also happens when they are trying to find wrongs with other people to act as mediators and cash on their wrongdoings. At the same time, there is playfulness and naughtiness in the spotting of other people's wrongdoings, in creating wrongs for other people, and in the way they endure the reactions of the recipients of the apology.

The narration is very charming and filled with a not-overly-expressed tenderness. The reader soon learns to care for the two friends, no matter their wrongs because, although innocent and simple-minded, they also look at the world with insight and a sense of care. Despite them being mental ill, they have an openness towards humanity that makes them more sane and human than anybody else in the story.

Despite not being a playwright, At Least we Can Apologize fits well within the Theatre of l'Absurd regarding the layout of the story, the depiction of the characters, and some of the linguistic nuances of the genre:
~ Life has no meaning or purpose.
~ The main characters are controlled or menaced by exogenous forces on which they don't have any control. In a way, they are like puppets on a string.
~ The presence of a pseudo-couple or interdependent pair (in this case two: the two caretakers and Si-bon & Jin-man).
~ The presence of some repetitive elements of language that create a cadence in the reading. In this case, the endlessly repeated "on account of", which I found more rhythmic than reiterative, and it has a narrative purpose, because every time the narrator uses the expression is justifying his thinking, his view of the world, as if he were alien to life and were discovering the world every second.

Despite its apparent absurdity and funny moments, the novel digs down into the nature of apology and poses embedded questions to the reader:
~ What does mean to apologise?
~ How should apologies be dealt with?
~ Does apologising and receiving an apology mean the same to everybody?
~ Are apology and forgiveness linked together?
~ Is the apology valid if instead of being done by the person who should apologise, is done by a mediator or representative?
~ Does giving an apology mean that the pain, distress and wrongdoings done should be forgotten or forgiven by the recipient of the apology?
~ Does apology equal repentance?
~ Is an apology recompense enough for the hurt and damage caused?
~ Can you apologise beforehand and then the wrong one apologised for?
~ If the recipient of the apology thinks that no wrong was done should the apologiser apologise?
~ Is apology necessary with our love ones?
~ Is love apology free?
~ Is acceptance and compassion sufficient to forget other people's wrongdoings?
~ Is the apology valid if the person apologising doesn't feel true regret?

Although the characters are not fully developed, and we don't know much about their past, they feel very real, and the sort of people one could easily find in many depressed areas around the world. The mental institution depicted in the book is quite realistic, perhaps more typical of the early-20th century, a brutal place where interns are treated worse than animals and the institution workers are lacking humanity.

The ending is was a bit disappointment. It fits the genre, but I wanted a bit of closure. I wanted the life of the odd couple to have some hope. On the other hand, at the beginning of the book, there is an alternation between the life inside and outside the asylum, but that stops at a certain point; I would have loved that to continue so that we can come to fully understand the background on the evil characters or are they just psychopaths?

I found the translation excellent, and completely forgot this was a translation, so I could focus on the story and the characters.

I hate the covers of the whole Korean series. Why not keeping the covers of the originals, or creating something that reflects the story? This and the other covers look fit for a book on Mathematics.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny and Stark: Absurdist Korean Style 20 Jan. 2016
By Daf Schein - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Hilarious, Weird, Strange. Stark. Totally deadpan. Korean satire. Took me back to the days of the true absurdists. Alfred Jarry. Ionesco. With some of Mel Brooks thrown in. Refreshing.
2.0 out of 5 stars Depressing 13 Mar. 2017
By Sara - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I wish there was some redeeming aspect to the story, but it seems to speak mainly to the selfish cruelty of humanity. Bleak.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unexpected 26 Mar. 2015
By jienna co - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It's funny and sad. The translation captures the melancholy well.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant! 12 Dec. 2013
By Helen Cho - Published on
Format: Paperback
Lee Kiho's "At Least We Can Apologize" is full of his trademark quirky sense of humour. The two protagonists Si-bong and Jin-man try to make a living out of apologizing for the faults of others after being released from a mental institute. As in many of his other works, Lee is interested in social misfits and explores the absurdity of life through their perspectives. Thoroughly enjoyable!
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