Familiar Things: Life At The Landfill || A Book Review

Familiar Things

Author: Hwang Sok-Yong

Translator: Sora Kim-Russell

Publisher: Scribe

Released: July 12th 2018

Genre: Fiction

Pages: 224

Format: Paperback

Characters: Bugeye, Baldspot, Bugeye’s mother, Scrawny’s mama, Peddler Grandpa, Baron, …

When 14-year-old Bugeye and his mother arrive at Flower Island — a vast landfill site on the outskirts of Seoul — they soon become part of the eclectic community of impoverished outsiders who make their living weeding recyclables from the rubbish.

Then, one night, Bugeye notices mysterious lights dancing around the landfill … Could it be the island’s ancient spirits? Is his luck about to change?

Familiar Things depicts a society on the edge of dizzying economic and social change. It is a haunting reminder to us all to be careful of what we throw away.

Source: Goodreads

I took so long to finish such a short book. Fun fact, I actually finished the second half of the book in one sitting and the first half took me almost a month? At this rate, I don’t understand myself as a reader anymore. But enough of that, I’m here to write a full length review on Familiar Things.

This book is set on Flower Island, despite of the beautiful name, it’s a landfill. This book highlights the life of Bugeye and his mother who just move to Flower Island because life gets difficult for them. This book consists of long ass chapters and quite descriptive on how the island looks like and how the people on the island live and get by every day. The first half of the book was a bit draggy for me. I do appreciate the details on their life working on the island, picking and sorting out the garbage. It makes me appreciate life and look on waste differently. Even food past expiry date can mean so much to many on the landfill. That’s why this book is such an important read. It reminds us not to be wasteful, appreciate every single thing in our life and always be mindful of those around us, especially the poor ones.

I also adore the spiritual element in this book. It’s an interesting subtopic to be added to the story. Spirits of Mr. Kim’s family tells the background and history of Flower Island, showing how the island once looked like. These spirits also teaches about human beings’ nature in destroying the earth, turning a land filled with flowers into a landfill. Their spirits is the symbol of how earth is dying, to showcase the difference between the past and the present.

Talking about characters, I really like Bugeye and Baldspot. Their kindness and innocence just warm your heart. Despite living in difficulty, they hardly complain and always very resourceful, be it for their own survival or to help others who are more in need. Another character that I found highly interesting is Scrawny’s mama. She’s basically a medium that connects Bugeye and Baldspot to the spirits. Besides that, her background also makes me curious on many things, one of it is whether she’s actually mad or is she really possessed by one of the spirit. It all depends in which perspective a reader would like to lean into. But I’d like to settle in something between because not everything should have a conclusion right?

Overall, I had a great time reading this story. It has taught me valuable lessons and it’s an important read for us to be more empathy and understanding towards others. But if you don’t like long chapters like me, you’d struggle with it at first but I promise, it’ll get better.

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