Day 4: Banned Book Club

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook, Ko Hyung-Ju and Ryan Estrada

The true story of Hyun Sook’s time in university and joining the protest movement against President Chun in 1983. She enters university attempting to avoid politics, particularly at the insistence of her mother who is unhappy that she’s wasting the money to attend university at all, and concerned that Hyun Sook will just get in trouble. But avoiding politics is impossible for her. From day one, she has to push through a protest to get onto campus. The masked folk dance team she joins hides political messages in their performance and gives way to political demonstration. Her English class discusses how Shakespeare used history to disguise anti-government sentiments, and her book club turns out to be the titular banned book club.

One member of the club, Hoon takes a particular interest in her, both as a protégé and a love interest. But she also spends a lot of time with Yuni and Suji who explain the added responsibilities and risks of being a woman in the movement. As one woman states, “The boys plan the events and then expect us to prepare everything” during a get-together to make Molotov cocktails. And one can see these moments accruing to make Hyun Sook a less passive protagonist.

While I can’t claim to now be an expert on South Korean politics, I did find myself reading a bunch of articles on Wikipedia, attempting to fill in some of the gap in my knowledge that is Korea after the Korean War. The magna influenced art is incredibly clear. I’m the first to admit that if you give me a cast of 10 or so characters, six of them central, and they’re not wearing color coded outfits, I’m likely to get confused, but the character designs are so well thought out that even in the epilogue, 33 years later, I could identify all the characters. The book is officially marked as YA, so it makes a perfect gift for your future revolutionary.

Order from the publisher Iron Circus.

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