An oblique, hard-edged novel tinged with offbeat fantasy, One Hundred Shadows is set in a slum electronics market in central Seoul – an area earmarked for demolition in a city better known for its shiny skyscrapers and slick pop videos. Here, the awkward, tentative relationship between Eungyo and Mujae, who both dropped out of formal education to work as repair-shop assistants, is made yet more uncertain by their economic circumstances, while their matter-of-fact discussion of a strange recent development – the shadows of the slum’s inhabitants have started to ‘rise’ – leaves the reader to make up their own mind as to the nature of this shape-shifting tale.
Hwang’s spare prose is illuminated by arresting images, quirky dialogue and moments of great lyricism, crafting a deeply affecting novel of perfectly calibrated emotional restraint. Known for her interest in social minorities, Hwang eschews the dreary realism usually employed for such issues, without her social criticism being any less keen. As well as an important contribution to contemporary working-class literature, One Hundred Shadows depicts the little-known underside of a society which can be viciously superficial, complicating the shiny, ultra-modern face which South Korea presents to the world.