Review: Saha by Cho Nam-Joo

In “Saha,” South Korean author Cho Nam-Joo — whose global bestseller and much-lauded “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982” I’ve yet to read — spotlights the wretched lives of multiple inhabitants of the Saha Estate, which is a dilapidated housing complex located in a corporate-owned village known simply as Town.

An authoritarian Council of Ministers — unelected and unidentified — rule Town with an iron fist. Its citizens are categorized into a stringent hierarchical system, and those who reside in Saha are at the very bottom of that social structure; deemed non-citizens, whose diminished statuses are locked in for life. If you’re thinking this is dystopian fiction in the mold of Orwell, Huxley and Atwood, you’d be absolutely right. 

This is a symphonic work of stories featuring Saha residents desperately trying to survive particularly tumultuous circumstances: a murder; a disappearance; government-backed lab experiments. It’s a chronicle of government corruption and oppression, which loses some of its potency through fairly perfunctory prose (or its translation, perhaps?) and an oddly conventional climax. Maybe my expectations were too high, given all the accolades I’ve heard for “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982.” I’m still keen to read it.

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