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Untold Night and Day

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  602 ratings  ·  134 reviews
A seductive, disorienting novel that manipulates the fragile line between dreams and reality, by South Korea’s leading contemporary writer

A startling and boundary-pushing novel, Untold Night and Day tells the story of a young woman’s journey through Seoul over the course of a night and a day. It’s 28-year-old Ayami’s final day at her box-office job in Seoul’s audio theate
Hardcover, 160 pages
Published May 5th 2020 by The Overlook Press (first published April 20th 2013)
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Average rating 3.61  · 
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Dec 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: korea, 2019-read
In this novel, everybody is a ghost, a shadow, a dreamed-up contraption, and life unfolds in strange loops, enigmatic encounters, and unsettling atmospheric disturbances; so in a way, it's a twisted realist novel! :-) Bae Suah throws her readers into a maelstrom of shifting timelines and perspectives, thus creating a puzzling depiction of the title-giving night and day in which multiple existences cumulate at one point in time: "Ayami was her future self or her past self. And she was both, exist ...more
Jan 14, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Hyper associative: like Dali in writing, an alive Hieronymus Bosch painting, a feverish dream in simmering hot Seoul.
Whenever I write a book I come up with several alternative versions. I write down as many as I can, read through them and choose the one I like the best.

This was something else and not at all what I expected before based on the cover or the slim size of this book.
Alienating, what starts of as a story of a young Korean woman closing up at work evolves into a dreamlike, non-logical
L.S. Popovich
Apr 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What starts as a quiet tale of a struggling middle class youth in Korea becomes a disorienting and surreal fable of identity, love, and art. At the intersection of Murakami and Kafka, Bae Suah occupies her own corner of contemporary literature. At times as light and charming as Banana Yoshimoto or Hiromi Kawakami, she also possesses highly literary powers comparable to Marquez. It is impossible to pin down exactly how she manages to convey rich detail, elegant economy, vivid characterization, an ...more
To read Untold Night and Day is to stand on shifting ground. This is a story that always operates according to dream logic, in which identities are malleable and the impossible becomes unremarkable.

We are introduced to Ayami on her last day of employment at an 'audio theatre', where recordings are played to the visually impaired. At first the scene appears mundane: Ayami worries about a radio that keeps turning itself back on, speaks to her boss, and ruminates on her next career move. However, i
Jenny (Reading Envy)
"Just finish it," I chided myself. "It's only 160 pages, come on!" And thus I persisted.

Halfway through, last night, I drifted off into upright couch sitting deep sleep, where I had four intense nightmarish dreams in a row, and apparently moaned throughout (not in a good way.)

And I DO blame this book, which I can't make any sense of. I can't tell what's real or what's not. I can't understand how what seems imagined or historical in one scene is real in another. I don't understand how the charact
Paul Fulcher
Feb 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The mysterious repeated statements enhance the sense of the surreal, the fantastical.

Untold Night and Day, translated by Deborah Smith, was originally published in Korean in 2013 as 알려지지 않은 밤과 하루 by 배수아 (Bae Suah).

This is the 7th book by 배수아 I have read (and the 9th translation by Deborah Smith, including 4 of novels by Han Kang) - see below for the list.

The first section of the novel is narrated from the perspective of Ayami (아야미), a young (or is she?) women a wannabe actress (or did she act?

On paper this should have been a favorite book ever - absolutely surreal, magical realism, where the lines between reality and fiction are completely blurred. I loved how strange this got, and how lost I felt, but too much of the time I felt bored. This book is only 150 pages, and too much of it was spent talking about things that really didn't matter. I'd say a solid 80% of this novel is dialogue, and I've discovered I simply don't like that in novels - if it's going to just be dialogue
Oct 07, 2020 rated it liked it
Deborah Smith again translates with florid language, evoking a surreal landscape where phrases echo word for word throughout the novel. Stories overlap and intersect. Episodes overlay each other as if written on diaphanous paper filling out and filling in the larger narrative as each page is laid on top of the other.

You have to be in the mood for this. It's so contemplatively weird, intent on pushing you off balance and messing with your equilibrium. A hazy fever dream in the liminal space betw
Floor Flawless
This was quite a weird one to read. Though when I read the translator's note at the end, it all made more sense to me. ...more
Apr 02, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: translated
"Hold on to my arm. This city's hidden name is 'secret.' People end up losing one another before they know it. Everything disappears as quickly as it's put up. The same is true of memories. It can even happen that, if you take ten steps out of your door and then turn and look back, the house you just left isn't there any more. And then you'll never find it again. It can happen with people, too."

Untold Night and Day is like a hall of mirrors: motifs are repeated to distortion, mutating as the
Jaclyn (sixminutesforme)
Mar 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a mesmerizing and contemplative narrative, completely absent of plot but rich in observation and imagery and juxtapositions. Parts of the prose felt fevered with their effectively utilized repetitions of said imagery (smallpox marks, fatal incidents with buses, white animals). I really enjoyed this, and if you enjoy other works that Deborah Smith has translated (namely Han Kang), suspect this is one you'll also connect with.

The e-pub I read didn't have a translators note - I'd looked fo
Aug 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
a fever dream I recommend reading in one go
Chris Haak
Very fascinating short, experimental novel, but also a confusing and difficult one that for me was not always enjoyable to read. I am interested to read more of Bae Suah though.
Thank you Jonathan Cape for the ARC.
Anna Baillie-Karas
Aug 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Incredible. Lucid writing and translation, singular characters, and a propulsive story that pulls the rug out from under your feet. The comparison with David Lynch is apt, with recurring motifs & moving from reality to the surreal. I almost understood what was happening, but not quite. Ideas of memory & the impermanence of things, & she plays with blindness & vision. Tightly written, engaging and will give your brain a workout.

4.5 stars (only because I don’t quite know what happened) rounded up
Surreal and dreamlike. This was kind of a weird book but honestly, I dig it.

The lines between reality and memory are blurred. Our main character Ayami is in a fever-dream state and I was right there with her. Certain descriptions and images recur and there's this feeling of disconnectedness from time as the story hops around between real and surreal. It's well-written and the imagery is strong. However this is quite a dialogue heavy book and I found that ended up adding to my confusion but takin
Khai Jian (KJ)
This is going to be a super short review. I dont get this book at all. I think the author is trying to create a parallel story. Luckily this is a short book. If not, I will DNF this. You can pick this up if you are a fan of surrealism stories.
Jan 15, 2021 rated it really liked it

plus I love translators' notes
Kamila Kunda
Bae Suah likes to challenge readers used to more conventional plot lines and character development. In “Untold Night and Day” identities are blurred, chronology is warped, time and space are stretched and exist in parallel to others.

It’s a muggy summer in Seoul. Ayami, the newly unemployed administrator of an audio theatre for the blind which just closed down, is spending the day and night in an eerie suspension between the past, present and future. Her name means “the spirit that enters the sha
Sep 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
It was like being in a blind mirror … like being in a blind dream.
Abbie | ab_reads
(#gifted @jonathancape) Wow, finishing Untold Night and Day I genuinely felt like I was coming down off a trip - or genuinely in that I imagine that’s what coming down off a trip feels like! This book reads like a bizarre fever dream, blurring the lines between reality and imagination, past and present, manifesting the idea of parallel lives running alongside ours. Even people become blurred - who is to say what’s real and what’s just a figment of our imagination?
I definitely did not grasp ever
catherine ♡
Mar 27, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: contemporary
Actual Rating: 2.0

So this book wasn't very long (only 160 pages), yet it felt long when I was reading it and I very nearly could not finish it at all. It was confusing, to say the least, and I kind of felt like I was reading a short story for school — one that I didn't understand and needed a teacher to break down for me.

It was definitely very dialed in at the beginning, and Ayami's feelings of having failed in multiple careers and being at a standstill — it was all very relatable. Then the craz
Areeb Ahmad (Bankrupt_Bookworm)
“The body is a passageway - a channel, without which the two of us would not be able to exist in the way we do now, the way I know you & you know me. Without their mirror images, our original forms wouldn't exist.”

RATING: 3.5/5

The best way to describing it would be disorienting. I was quite unsure how I felt about the book even after passing the halfway mark but unknown to me, it was spinning its web. I was slowly seduced until I could experience Suah's magic, not just objectively perceive it at
Jun 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bae Suah has done it again for me!

The plot - if you can call it that - follows Ayami, a 28 year old former actress who just finished her last day working at an Audio Auditorium in Seoul. She also takes German language lessons from an ailing lady, who is also a friend of the Director of the Auditorium.

We follow her for one night and the next day (although the timeframe is hazy), as she has dinner with her Director, and the next day picks up a foreign poet/writer who has just landed in Seoul for
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was ok
"In particular, the mysterious repeated statements enhance the sense of the surreal, the fantastical."
This was referring to the Blind Owl by Sadeq Hedayat (a key work involved in this book) but could just as easily have been the author of this novel explaining and justifying the almost-incessant repetition of certain phrases, descriptions and events.

I get it, this was one of several techniques employed to make this a disorienting and surreal read - along with characters and events merging into
What a strange little book. I'm also going to borrow the term from the book blurb since I think it is the most fitting description for it: Untold Night and Day reads like a fever dream, where characters and events often get overlapped (I often had a faint sense of déjà vu, until I realized it was the same events and sentences being told over and over again) and intertwined. The story dances between ordinary and sometimes borderline eerie. While short in length, it packs plenty of different theme ...more
May 04, 2020 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
May 1, 2020: Featured in Fanticipating Reads of May 2020!

✔ translated work by South-Korean woman
✔ middle-class youth struggle & realism
✔ a theater actress turns towards being an escort
✔ surreal, disorienting, dreamy literary fiction
✔ comparable to other translated South-Korean gems like The Vegetarian
"Ayami was her future self or her past self. And she was both, existing at the same time. In that other world, she was both the chicken and the old woman. That was the secret of night and day existing simultaneously."

3.5 stars - surreal, dreamlike and a bit unnerving. Bae Suah's writing is very intoxicating, and it's another fantastic translation from Deborah Smith.
Jaclyn Crupi
Feb 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Through the use of narrative loops, surreal encounters and repetition, Bae Suah explores fractured selves and the possibilities of identity. Given its experimental and disorienting style, the book is ultimately quite simply set over a 24-hour period and follows a young former actress who has lost her job in an audio theatre. The unsettling atmosphere and weird encounters have strong Lynchian overtones. Untold Night and Day has its own internal logic and once you accept its fever dream qualities ...more
Hypnotic experimental novel that explores a wide range of cerebral themes. The repetition of motifs and images give the illusion that the novel exists like a hall of mirrors, folding onto itself, demanding to be read twice-over. This is a vivid and mature novel with some unforgettable moments: the blackout restaurant; the bravura description of a heat-wave early on in the novel; the final chapters with Ayami and Wolfi, to name a few.
Menna Alashker
The only way to describe this book is that if this was a piece of art, it would be a stunning abstract piece. You can't really understand what's going on or what the sequence of events is but you're mesmerized anyway and you can't stop reading. I wouldn't recommend this book and I really can't tell if I enjoyed it or not but it was such an interesting read, and incredibly different that I'm not mad at it. ...more
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Bae Suah, one of the most highly acclaimed contemporary Korean authors, has published more than a dozen works and won several prestigious awards. She has also translated several books from the German, including works by W. G. Sebald, Franz Kafka, and Jenny Erpenbeck. Her first book to appear in English, Nowhere to be Found, was longlisted for a PEN Translation Prize and the Best Translated Book Aw ...more

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98 likes · 34 comments
“Ayami was her future self or her past self. And she was both, existing at the same time. In that other world, she was both the chicken and the old woman. That was the secret of night and day existing simultaneously. Ayami discovered this through a single movement, bending down to pick up the pebble. And, remembering this simultaneous existence more vividly than she remembered herself, became unable to remember anything else.” 1 likes
“In life there are wounds that like leprosy slowly eat away at the soul in solitude.” 0 likes
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