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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


At Least We Can Apologize

Lee Ki-ho

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To purchase At Least We Can Apologize

Title: At Least We Can Apologize
Author: Lee Ki-ho
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 185 pages
Original in: Korean
Availability: At Least We Can Apologize - US
At Least We Can Apologize - UK
At Least We Can Apologize - Canada
At Least We Can Apologize - India
  • Korean title: 사과늒 잘해요
  • Translated by Christopher Joseph Dykas
  • A volume in Dalkey Archive Press' Library of Korean Literature

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Our Assessment:

B+ : disturbing, but effectively done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 18/4/2014 Mark Morris

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) wickedly funny story, a kind of Waiting for Godot recast by Stephen King." - Mark Morris, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       At Least We Can Apologize is narrated by the simpleminded Jin-man, institutionalized as a young boy by his father. The institution he was left in is a horrible place, lorded over by two caretakers -- nephews of the superintendent who runs it -- who regularly beat the patients and have driven some to suicide. Not knowing any other kind of life, Jin-man has rationalized what happens there; along with his buddy, Si-bong, he has come to expect the beatings and to play the role he believes is expected of him. Often they doesn't know what they are supposed to have done wrong and even invent wrongs to confess to the caretakers -- though if they invent a wrong they then deliberately commit it.
       A newcomer who doesn't play by the rules -- spitting out the medicine they are given, for example -- convinces them to try to communicate with the outside world, sneaking messages into the crates of socks they pack calling attention to their situation as captives. Eventually the authorities come, closing down the institution. Released, Si-bong and Jin-man make their way to Si-bong's sister, Si-yeon, and move in with her and her much older no-good lover. Without guidance, they have a bit of difficulty adapting to the outside world -- and the tandem proceed more or less just as they had when they were institutionalized.
       Trying to find some work, they eventually hit on the idea of offering their services as apologists, advertising:

Whether you knew you were doing it or not, we offer apologies for any number of wrongs you've committed against someone.
       Unfortunately, their concept of wrongs (and appropriate apologies) are strongly colored by their experiences at the hands of the caretakers. Their efforts have an internal logic, but don't produce the desired effects (except through the odd lens their minds have been shaped into by their terrible experiences).
       The story moves from the uncomfortably comic to the very dark -- all the while in Jin-man's naïve tone. And, while Jin-man doesn't exactly turn a blind eye to events, describing them clearly enough for the reader to fathom the full, tragic extent of it all, he does avoid hearing it all spelled out all too clearly -- running away, for example, when another former patient confronts him, telling him: "I saw it ! I saw everything !" and yells at him: "Don't you wanna know, you little bastard ?!"
       At Least We Can Apologize is an often uncomfortable read, filled largely with damaged souls. Some are innocents, like Jin-man, who wonders about his father and why he left him at the institution, and Si-bong, traumatized by a horrific event that he feels responsible for and hasn't been able to get over (which Lee presents in a wonderfully awful comic-tragic turn). Others, like Si-yeon, are more realistically resigned to their fate. And others, like the two criminal caretakers, are simply bad people. There are encounters with people who seem to have found a happy equilibrium -- a local butcher and his buddy, the owner of a fruit stand, or a mother and her son -- but with their wrongs and apologies Jin-man and Si-bong wreak havoc with remarkable ease in a world where madness, in its various manifestations, can become indistinguishable from any norms.
       Simpleminded narrators, like alcoholics, can be frustrating, but Lee handles his quite well. The way Jin-man and Si-bong are victimized is provocative, and can be tough to take, but it is also part of a rounded picture of the characters, and a foundation for the somewhat unexpected turns the story takes. The grim humor is far more grim than funny, but also quite well handled by Lee.
       At Least We Can Apologize is -- I'll say it again -- an uncomfortable read, but it is quite accomplished. Worthwhile.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 September 2013

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At Least We Can Apologize: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Korean author Lee Ki-ho (이기호) was born in 1972.

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© 2013-2014 the complete review

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