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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Another Man's City

Ch'oe In-ho

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To purchase Another Man's City

Title: Another Man's City
Author: Ch'oe In-ho
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 190 pages
Original in: Korean
Availability: Another Man's City - US
Another Man's City - UK
Another Man's City - Canada
Another Man's City - India
  • Korean title: 낯익은 타인들의 도시
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton

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Our Assessment:

B : quite well spun-out tale of identity and free will

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Harper's . 10/2014 Joshua Cohen

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The complete review's Review:

       Another Man's City covers barely more than a single weekend, describing what the character K experiences, feels, and thinks as he finds his world slightly (and then increasingly) out of whack.
       As the opening headings suggest, the story closely tracks unfolding events, down to the exact time as K progresses through his days:


       7 a.m.

       And as the parenthetical 'Power on' might suggest, this isn't entirely an everyday story, on any level. Exactly how far those levels reach isn't immediately clear, but it won't come as a surprise that the book's closing words are:
       For all the precision, Another Man's City finds K in a bit of a daze. It begins when his alarm goes off at 7 in the morning -- on a Saturday, when it shouldn't. His memories of the previous evening are hazy, and include a whole block of lost time -- and he seems to have forgotten his phone somewhere along the way. Small details are wrong, too: he wakes up naked, despite never having slept without his pajamas his entire married life, for example, and his aftershave -- V, whose: "scent defined him" -- has inexplicably been replaced by aftershave Y. There's something off about his wife, too and all sorts of other small and larger details. Adding injury to confusion, his daughter's puppy bites him.
       K feels like:
everyone was plotting to turn his life upside down. Behind a façade of peace and tranquility they were deceiving him, they were preying on his frailties.
       Things get stranger, as K sees people he vaguely recognizes -- more and more -- but generally can't quite place them, or if he can, their presence doesn't add up. And in trying to piece together what happened the night before, he tries to retrace his steps, but the paths he follows raise more questions than they answer.
       "Familiarity was a deception", he finds, as everything familiar is off kilter. It feels like some greater force, some 'Big Brother' is staging life for him, but isn't getting the smaller details just right. K tries to reason his way through what's happening -- "I think, therefore I am. I am, therefore I am not deceived", he tells himself -- but the world around him becomes more surreal the more he engages with it. K encounters his old brother-in-law, who reveals an unusual but still plausible other side to his identity, and then his sister, whom K hasn't been in touch with for ages, now a bloated woman out of the spotlight she once enjoyed.
       From the wife, who doesn't seem quite like the woman he has long been married to any longer, to a variety of characters who have assumed new roles -- some only part-time, in forms of what can seem like play-acting -- the boundaries between familiar reality and this seemingly slightly different world K finds himself navigating remain mostly vague. K feels things are wrong, but he finds it hard to put his finger on exactly what's wrong -- and some of the explanations he reaches for, like that the woman now posing as his wife is some substitute, seem far-fetched even to him.
       Ch'oe leads the reader along with K through this odd, off-kilter world, and he doesn't disappoint with the final twists in this reality of doubles and of assumed roles. An unusual speculative philosophical-existential story, Another Man's City takes the very grounded K for quite a ride, and the reader along with him. Ch'oe's narrative veers towards the science-fictional, but is -- unsurprisingly, given the protagonist's identifying name and the focus on both the mystifying and ineffable circumstances he is confronted with and on physical change (i.e. metamorphosis) -- closer to Kafka in atmosphere and feel. (Kafka does get an incidental mention in the story, too.)
       The danger with a novel such as this is of course that it can sink in its own willful murk. For the most part, however, Ch'oe's close description of K's progress over these few days is readily followed. Only in some of the deeper issues that surface -- questions of intimacy and sex, or his family-relations going back to his childhood -- can it feel like the reader is left in a bit of a lurch; indeed, the K outside these pages and this time-span -- such as at work (he works in banking) -- arguably remains too little-known.
       Ultimately, Another Man's City is perhaps stretched just a bit too far -- without the adequate foundations to support that -- but in the unpredictable and unusual turns it takes is an intriguing examination of contemporary life and identity -- the roles we play and the ones forced on us -- that allows for myriad interpretations.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 September 2014

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Another Man's City: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       South Korean author Ch'oe In-ho (Choi In-ho; 최인호) lived 1945 to 2013.

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