A modern-day quest novel from one of Korea’s most renowned novelists.
Princess Bari tells the story of a young girl, frail and brave, who escapes from famine and death in North Korea in the 1990s. Seeking refuge in China before crossing oceans in the hold of a cargo ship, she disembarks in London, with its bewildering mix of cultures, religions, and languages.
In this foreign city, Bari finds work as a masseuse — but she doesn’t just heal the body, she also comforts souls, having learnt from her beloved grandmother to read the pain and nightmares of others. Alone and in a strange land, Bari will have to fight, through pain and deepening sadness, to find love and the will to stay alive.
With Princess Bari, Hwang Sok-yong entwines an old Korean myth, which tells of an abandoned princess travelling to the ends of the earth to find the elixir of life that will bring peace to the souls of the dead, with the ethereal and haunting backdrop of the modern world.
‘Drawing on an old Korean folktale about a princess on a quest and intertwining it with modern life in China and London, Sok-yong chronicles Bari’s journey in an enchanting style that explores Korean culture, beautifully balances reality with magic, and presents an immigrant's perspective of the world.’
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‘An evocative, modern-day quest from one of Korea's most renowned novelists … a story of the search for home and a timely, surreal reminder of the cost of war and the desperate measures people will take to escape.’
‘A mesmerising odyssey through the beauty, suffering, and rage that flow from the irrepressible desire to live.’ STARRED REVIEW
‘Combining brutal adversity, escapist fantasy, and deep humanity, Hwang … indelibly alchemises the plight of the North Korean refugee, and refugees worldwide, into resonantly timely storytelling.’
‘[A]n unquestionably valuable book … Princess Bari deserves praise for offering the opportunity to confront difficult and timely subjects such as the environmental destruction caused by rapid modernisation and the complicated nature of immigration and human trafficking.’
Reading in Translation
‘Compelling and heartrending … In Hwang’s probing, compassionate work, Western readers unfamiliar with Eastern philosophy and culture will experience new takes on folkloric wisdom born of the enduring collective imagination.’
Los Angeles Review of Books
‘Hwang Sok-Yong sets Princess Bari in the midst of Korean history, giving the reader insight not only into his characters, but into the history of his home country. He paints a picture of a family living through this horrific time, but intertwines it with the fantastical mythology of the great Princess Bari, known to many Koreans as Barigongju (????) … perhaps we can use the mythology of Princess Bari as a response to the questions of today – as a guide to release from suffering.’
Corrie Hulse, The Mantle
‘Hwang is perhaps the most intensely compassionate writer I’ve ever encountered, telling stories of great suffering with great tenderness and without sensationalism.’