Review: Kim Yong Ik’s “The Shoes From Yang San Valley”

The Shoes From Yang San Valley (available only on Amazon used, and quite expensive or, for the clever buyer, much more cheaply on Alibris) is suitable for children or adults. It is written by the criminally forgotten author Kim Yong-ik, who you can read more about here. It is a novella, really, and like our previous review (Evening Glow) it focuses on the son of a butcher (again, about as low as you can get in Korean society) who is named Sang Do.

In this case the Sang Do lives next door to a traditional shoemaker, particularly a maker of wedding shoes. Sang Do’s family provides the shoemaker with leather for his shoes, and Sang Do is in love with the shoemaker’s daughter, Soo. As the economy changes, and old-fashioned shoes fall out of favor, the shoemaker becomes poorer and poorer. His daughter, Soo, is forced to go to work as a housegirl. Sang Do, commissions the shoemaker to create shoes for Soo, but the shoemaker is too poor to purchase the silk necessary to create them. Sang Do also provides this. In a fit of drunken bitterness, the shoemaker says some horrible things about the butcher and his family, and Sang Do overhears it.

At that point, the war intervenes, and Sang Do barely escapes to Busan, unfortunately leaving his parents behind. In Busan as a beggar, Sang Do comes across the old shoemaker, selling his shoes from a crate in an open market. Sang Do is too bitter to talk to the old man, but finds himself compelled to revisit his stall.

Coincidentally, Sang Do locates Soo, still working as a housegirl in Busan, but is too embarrassed to identify himself to her. Finally, Sang Do stops visiting the shoeseller. When the snow comes, he visits one more time, seeing only one pair of shoes left, and the shoesellers wife manning the crate. Sang Do steps in to buy the pair of shoes and he and the shoeseller’s wife talk to each other, with the wife revealing that the last pair of shoes was FOR Sang Do and the shoe-seller kept coming out every day, hoping that either Sang Do or Soo would come by and recognize them.

This sends Sang Do into a frenzy of activity that…. Well.. it would be a spoiler, but lets just say that this story does not end the way most of these Korean love stories end.

Kim actually wrote in English, so there is no translator here.

This is a great story, easy to read, full of history, and charming. Someone in charge of something should take a look back at the work that Kim Yong Ik did, because it is amazing, as is his personal story.


purely subjective things

HOW MANY BUCKWHEAT BLOSSOMS? None. Kim Yong Ik lived in the United States for a time and understood it well. Thus, when he wrote, he made his cultural points quite clear and it takes no special knowledge of history to enjoy his stories.

IT MUST BE DUSTY IN HERE, BECAUSE…. Something got in my eye and I’m misting up just a bit.^^

NOT SO VERY STORYENTALIZED – well, the story isn’t, but the illustrations by Park Minja are a bit on the childish/oriental side.

One thought on “Review: Kim Yong Ik’s “The Shoes From Yang San Valley”

  1. My heart gave a squeeze as it broke.
    Ah! I shall pursue this hero, and find out what happened to him.

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