Book Review: "Almond" By Sohn Won-Pyung


Credit: amazon


Book Name: Almond 

Author: Won-Pyung Sohn
Language: English 
Genre: Friction


Filmmaker, novelist and screenwriter Sohn Won-pyung reside in South Korea. She graduated from Sogang University with a BA in social studies and philosophy and from the Korean Academy of Film Arts with a degree in film directing. She has won a number of awards, including the Science Fantasy Writers' Award for her screenplay I Believe in the Moment and the Film Review Award of the 6th Cine21. 

Several other short films, such as Oooh You Make Me Sick and A Two-way Monologue were also written and directed by her. Her first full-length book, Almond, which won the Changbi Prize for Young Adult Fiction, and her second book, Born in 1988, which won the Jeju 4.3 Peace Literary Award, marked her literary debut in 2017.


In a nutshell, this tale is about the encounter of two monsters. I'm one of the monsters.

Alexithymia, a brain disorder that Yunjae was born with, makes it difficult for him to feel emotions like fear or rage. He lacks friends because of two almond-shaped neurons that are deeply buried in his brain, but his loving mother and grandmother are unconcerned by this. 

The colourful post-it notes that decorate their tiny home, which is located above his mother's secondhand bookshop, serve as a constant reminder to him to smile, say "thank you," and laugh. In this calm, tranquil setting, Yunjae grows up content, even happy, with his small family.

Then, on Yunjae's sixteenth birthday, Christmas Eve, everything alters. His world is upended by a shocking random act of violence, leaving him all by himself. When troubled teen Gon shows up at his school and starts to bully Yunjae, the grieving Yunjae withdraws into silence and isolation.

In spite of all the odds, the tormentor and the victim discover they have more in common than they thought. Gon is perplexed by Yunjae's unwavering calm, but Yunjae believes that if he gets to know the irascible Gon, he might learn how to feel real emotions. Curiosity draws the two together, and they develop an unexpected friendship.  

Something slowly shifts inside Yunjae as he starts to open his life to new people, including a schoolgirl. And when Gon's life is suddenly in danger, Yunjae will push himself beyond all of his comfort limits and possibly emerge as the most unlikely hero.

Personal Review

Sohn Won-debut pyung's book, Almond, about 15-year-old Yunjae who is alexithymic, or unable to recognise or express emotions, was translated from Korean by Sandy Joosun Lee.

The two tiny, almond-shaped brain structures known as amygdalae, according to Yunjae, are what allow us to feel emotions, but his almonds are broken. He claims, "My almonds don't seem to work well for some reason. When they are stimulated, they don't actually light up. I, therefore, have no idea why people laugh or cry. To me, happiness, sorrow, love, and fear are all merely hazy concepts. The letters "emotion" and "empathy" are just empty symbols on paper."

In order to help him live a more "normal" life, his mother and Yunjae's grandmother taught him how to express his emotions.

Yunjae is content to live with his mother and grandmother and work in their used bookshop until one snowy Christmas Eve when his entire world implodes. Mom and Granny were brutally attacked by a stranger brandishing a knife after eating at a restaurant; as a result, Granny died and Mom is now in a hospital in a coma.

Yunjae admits, "I did nothing more than observe everything that was happening. As usual, just standing there with vacant eyes."

The book reads like a diary because of its confessional tone and brief chapters; it provides a record of Yunjae's daily activities following the attack and his efforts to learn more about his neurodivergent brain. Gon and Yunjae both have distinct writing styles. 

Yunjae uses language in very precise ways. He speaks with an insightful directness that contrasts with Gon's rambling, swear-filled speech. It was amusing to observe how Yunjae's expressiveness evolves gradually as he spends more time with God throughout the course of the book.

A more subdued theme that is woven into the narrative is language usage. Yunjae observes a K-pop (Korean pop music) group accepting an award on TV and jokingly declaring their love for all of their fans "Can the word "love" be used in such a casual manner? ... I believe that love is an extreme concept. It appeared to compel something indefinable into a word's confines. What a misused word. 

People would casually use the word "love" when they were feeling a little content or grateful." Yunjae appears to have a profound understanding of the somewhat arbitrary nature of the language people use to describe feelings because he has had to study them as a result of his inability to recognise them.

A complex coming-of-age tale, Almond explores the nature of love, fear, and hate as well as the language people use—and misuse—to describe their messy emotions. Its alexithymic protagonist finds himself in the unlikeliest of friendships.

Written by: Greeshma Chowdary 
Edited by: Nidhi Jha

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