The Ancient Garden

Hwang Sok-yong

02 January 2014
544 pages


Oh Hyun Woo, a political activist, has served nearly twenty years of a life sentence, but when the Korean government relaxes its stance on such dissidents, he finds himself up for release. While he was growing old on the inside, though, things on the outside have changed, and he is soon adrift in a world full of noise and activity, multi-storey apartment blocks and mobile phones. As he struggles to adjust to the present, and to consider his future, Mr Oh is also forced to examine the past: family members he’s lost, one way or another; friends he’s no longer in touch with; comrades who have died or moved on – and the loss of the love of his life: it may have been two decades since they were together, but some relationships leave their mark no matter what.

Both a haunting love story and an account of life in modern Korea, The Ancient Garden is about past and present; about loss, regret and looking to the future; and about how some things are simply meant to be, even when – tragically – events prove otherwise.

'Hwang Sok-yong is undoubtedly the most powerful voice of the novel in East Asia today' Kenzaburo Oe