Our Happy Time

Translated by Sora Kim-Russell
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About The Book

Already a wildly popular bestseller in South Korea, this gripping and passionate debut novel is a death row love story of crime, punishment, and forgiveness—vividly told by the exquisitely talented Gong Ji-young.

Yu-Jung, beautiful, wealthy, and bright, is lying in her hospital bed, recovering from her third suicide attempt, when she receives a life-changing visit. Her no-nonsense aunt, a nun, appears by her side and suggests Yu-Jung accompany her on a charitable visit to death row. At her lowest ebb, Yu-Jung is resistant. But something compels her to go to the prison. There she meets Yun-Soo, a convicted murderer who will soon be put to death. Though she is repulsed by his crimes, something about the depth of his suffering strikes a chord in her. Shaken by their encounter, she returns to visit him the next week. And the next…

Through their weekly, hour-long meetings, Yu-Jung and Yun-Soo slowly reveal to each other the dark secrets of their pasts and the hidden traumas that have shaped their lives. In doing so they form a deep, unbreakable bond, helping one another overcome their demons. But Yun-Soo’s hands are always in cuffs, the prison officers are always in the background, and they can never lose sight of the fact that their happy time together is tragically brief.

Gracefully poetic and ideal for fans of Kyung-Sook Shin’s Please Look After Mother, Our Happy Time is a passionate and heartbreaking love story as well as an important, hard-hitting, and compassionate fable.

Excerpt
Our Happy Time
Harlem is there by way of a divine indictment against New York City and the people who live downtown and make their money downtown. The brothels of Harlem, and all its prostitution, and its dope rings, and all the rest are the mirror of the polite divorces and the manifold cultured adulteries of Park Avenue: they are God’s commentary on the whole of our society.

– Thomas Merton
BLUE NOTE 1
I am going to tell you a story. It is a story of murder. It is a story of a family that was only capable of destruction, where screaming and yelling and whippings and chaos and curses were their daily bread. And it is a story of a miserable being who used to believe he couldn’t possibly be miserable—this is my story. The day it all began, two women and a teenager died. I was convinced that one of those women had no right to live, that she deserved to die. I thought that for her to have so much money all to herself was like dressing vermin in fine silk. I thought that if I, in this unfair and unjust world, could use that money for something good instead, I would be doing the right thing.

And there was another woman. She was a woman who had never had anything of her own in her whole life. A woman who had everything taken away from her by others—that woman was dying. If only I’d had three million won, I could have saved her. But at the time, I had no way of getting that much money. With each day that passed, she was closer to death, and though I did not know if there really was a heaven or how long it had been since I last looked to it, I assumed heaven would understand me, and that this was justice. Justice.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Our Happy Time includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Introduction

After her third failed suicide attempt, beautiful and privileged Korean pop star Yujeong agrees to accompany her aunt, an elderly nun, on her weekly visits to death row inmates. There Yujeong meets Yunsu, a convicted murderer awaiting death. Though she is repulsed by his crimes, Yujeong relates to Yunsu’s suffering, and feels compelled to continue visiting him week after week.

During their visits Yujeong and Yunsu slowly reveal the tragic circumstances that have shaped their lives and discover, through their compassion for one another, a way to forgive.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. Yujeong’s mother constantly tells her that she is just like her aunt Monica, but Yujeong claims that she is more like her mother. Do you agree with either of their claims?
 
2. Yujeong and Yunsu had very different upbringings, but when they first meet they both long for death. Why do Yujeong and Yunsu feel this way? Do their reasons overlap at all?
 
3. Describe Yunsu’s relationship with his brother, Eunsu. How does this relationship contribute to Yunsu’s downfall?
 
4. Yujeong refers to the painting of the prodigal son hanging in the prison. What are her initial feelings about the prodigal son? Do you think her feelings changed as she grew closer to Yunsu?
 
5. The author, Gong Ji-young, often writes about strong women. Which of the female characters in Our Happy Time would you define as strong? What do you consider to be their weaknesses?
 
6. Why is forgiveness so important to the mother of Yunsu’s victim? What role does forgiveness play for each of the main characters in Our Happy Time?
 
7. Why does Yujeong want to have a “real conversation” with Yunsu? How does Yunsu feel about having “real conversations” with Yujeong?
 
8. What do you think Yunsu means when he writes, “I also can’t help thinking that this is the very first spring of my life”? (p. 156)
 
9. At what points in the story do you think Yujeong and Yunsu begin to truly value their lives? What do the characters realize about themselves that inspires these changes?
 
10. What value does Yunsu get from becoming a Christian?
 
11. Yunsu is exposed to injustice at a very early age. What role does the concept of justice play in shaping the course of his life? Do you think justice prevails in the end?
 
12. According to Yujeong, “If there were a fundamental truth, it was that everyone fights death.” (p. 258) What are some of the ways that the characters in Our Happy Time fight death?
 
13. What do you think happens next for Yujeong?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Letter writing plays a large role in Our Happy Time. Contact your local prison or search online to get involved in a letter-writing program, and have each person in the book club write a letter to a prisoner. You may choose to share your letters with the book club before sending it on.
 
2. The books Aunt Monica gives Yunsu in prison help him in a variety of ways. Organize a book drive with your book club and donate the books to your local prison’s library.
 
3. Research more about the author Gong Ji-young and her involvement in the Korean student and labor movements, and watch the film adaptation of her book The Crucible. Discuss how you think the author’s personal experiences inspire her work.
About The Author

Gong Ji-young is one of Korea’s most beloved and critically acclaimed novelists. She has sold more than 10 million books in South Korea alone. Her awards include the 2011 Yisand Literary Award, the 21st Century Literary Award, the Korean Novel Prize, Special Media Award, and Amnesty International for Our Happy Times. This is Gong’s first novel to be translated into English. Her books are published in China, Thailand, Japan, and the UK.

Product Details
  • Publisher: Atria Books/Marble Arch Press (July 2014)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781476730455

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