Friday October 19, 2012
All Woman And Springtime: A tale of two women
Review by REBA KOLETH
A riveting and touching book that takes the reader from the depths of despair to the heights of hope.
All Woman And Springtime
Author: B.W. Jones
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 372 pages
THE friendship between the two North Korean protagonists is uncanny, for Gi and Il-Sun share an intimate bond that words can’t describe. The girls work in a clothing factory, sharing the ups and downs of their lives in a tightly-controlled country.
How controlled? Well, Gi and her family are thrown out of their home because of their accidental neglect of the portraits of the Great Leader, Kim Il-sung, and his son, the Dear Leader Kim-Jong-il. Too harsh? Definitely! However, that is life in the world’s least known state.
Il-Sun and Gi’s relationship takes on a somewhat forbidden tone – but only to a certain limit, as though they are both afraid of crossing the line, fearing that doing so would jeopardise their closeness.
This book is astonishing and provocative at the same time. The reader is soon engrossed in the way the characters seem to desire something; something that is raw and tangible at times and yet unseen and ambiguous at other times. Author B.W. Jones doesn’t skip a beat in describing her main characters, their strengths as well as weaknesses, all leading to the portrayal of a believable and likeable pair of young women.
As the book moves from one phase of the girls’ lives on to another, we are left wanting to linger over each little anecdote with its humour and quirkiness, and sometimes its tragedy and helplessness. As Il-Sun embraces womanhood and all the surprises it brings, Gi hovers nervously on the brink, looking to her friend to fill the void within her.
When the time finally comes for escape, we are left gritting our teeth in suspense and anticipation. Will they make it across the border to South Korea? What ensues after the escape, however, is almost half-expected.
Little things like fast food outlets and warm showers are potently pleasant to the girls as much as they are foreign and unreal. But none of the modern conveniences make up for what the girls have to go through to make their way in this strange, foreign land.
Suffice to say that the book does not leave much to the imagination, as the girls learn to fight their own nightmares. By this time, the reader is left appalled by the way things are going for the girls and can’t help but root for them as they make yet another attempt to escape their hard lives.
From one let-down to another, it seems impossible for them to run away. After their plan fails, they discover that their punishment for escaping may just be the way out of their dreaded lives. In the last chapters of the book, we struggle to find a happy ending (or maybe just a better ending) to the story. The girls have gone through too much and the immensity of tragedy in their lives is almost too much for the reader to take in.
In the end, the strongest survive, or so they say. If at first the book focused mainly on Il-Sun, then later it zeroes in on Gi, who finally finds herself in a land of opportunity, where her talent for mathematics is discovered, and we are left with the assumption that she pursues her dream of an education.
All in all, this book is riveting and touching, giving us a taste of poverty, homelessness and starvation while balancing the misery with moments of happiness, contentment and, most of all, the beauty of the strong bond between women.
The book ends rather suddenly but not without giving us renewed hope for Gi, as she embraces her new life. We see a ray of hope amidst the darkness that shines in the name of love, survival and the drive to persevere for a better tomorrow.