Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

To the Warm Horizon

Choi Jin-young

general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase To the Warm Horizon

Title: To the Warm Horizon
Author: Choi Jin-young
Genre: Novel
Written: 2017 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 172 pages
Original in: Korean
Availability: To the Warm Horizon - US
To the Warm Horizon - UK
To the Warm Horizon - Canada
directly from: Honford Star
  • Korean title: 해가 지는 곳으로
  • Translated by Soje

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : neatly done variation on the collapsed-world novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The action in To the Warm Horizon is set in motion by a rapidly acting and spreading virus that seems to have washed across the planet. One day, it is a distant (from Korea, where the main characters all live at the time of the outbreak) threat, the next it has already taken hold. The brief initial belief that "it'll be fine soon" -- "Because the disaster is in a distant country. Because modern medicine and the government will protect us" -- is quickly dispelled; the death toll enormous. And, in short order: "Governments dissolved; public order collapsed".
       Three sets of characters abandon Korea as the disease upends life there: there are Ryu, her husband Dan, and son Haemin; they lost a daughter to the disease and then left Korea in their car. There is Dori, who travels on foot with her young deaf-mute sister, Joy, after their parents died. And there is Jina, whose father leads some twenty members of their extended family westwards by truck.
       The chapters are all first-person accounts, mostly alternating between those by Jina and Dori but also including several others'. The Prologue consists of a single account, by a by-then very old Ryu, looking back on that time when the virus first spread and specifically the two months spent traveling through Russia, decades earlier -- the period that the bulk of the book is then devoted to. An Epilogue collects several accounts from that period's aftermath, nearer to that time.
       Early in their trip, Ryu encounters Dori and Joy, briefly entrusting her son to the young woman in a dangerous situation; they go their separate ways but their paths cross again much deeper in Russia. Soon later, Jina's father, who had already had taken on one stray at her insistence -- a neighbor boy, Gunji -- grudgingly takes on Dori and Joy as well, when Jina comes across them and insists that they be taken along too. Like Gunji, they are not family and as such they remain outsiders, treated with suspicion, but Jina is drawn to Dori and stays close to her.
       The world in which they all travel has more or less completely broken down. There is no Internet, and few places even just with electric power. Gas and food are hard to find, and crime rampant; no one can be trusted. There's no news of the situation, locally or internationally, no way of knowing how far the virus has traveled and where one might be safe; as Dori notes: "The cold and devastation before us seemed to be our only reality and thus the entirety of the world"; as Ryu notes; "We had all become refugees".
       Some of the characters are driven, in various ways. Dori's need to protect her sister comes ahead of everything else, while Jina's father is determined to see the extended family through this. Ryu's husband also believes they can find a safe new world if they travel far enough -- though Ryu understands the flaw in his limited thinking: "Dan wished for a new life that was identical to the world we had already lived and failed in".
       Their overlapping odysseys are ones where they must almost always be on edge, worried about every possible encounter, unable to trust practically anyone. Many of the places they pass through are deserted, or nearly so, but threats lurk everywhere. Bad things happen, and even before the worst does Jina recognizes that even in the best case, even if they found some place of safety and stability:

Wherever we settled, we'd live on for the rest of our lives carrying wounds from this road. We may have to accept the fact of our survival not as a miracle but as a heavy burden to bear.
       If Dori is initially suspicious of Jina, their bond eventually becomes a very close one. Each is determined in her own way, but while Dori long and often can't think beyond survival and protecting her sister, Jina's greater openness also comes to help her. Dori realizes:
She made me think differently. She showed me that I could laugh and be happy, even in a situation like this. [...] Like a painkiller, she made me forget about reality.
       So also then, when the worst does happen, Ryu can take some heart in the relationship between the two women:
With them, the air changed. It became possible not to be desensitized to murder, violence, humiliation, and resignation. I remembered that, even amidst all the bad in the world, another world was possible.
       Their voyages of escape take the expected grim turns in this dark world -- where the virus remains an almost invisible threat, something of concern but which they can do little about (and hence don't really worry that much about), and the real everyday threat is always, at every turn, fellow man.
       Eventually, Dori and Joy flee from Jina's family -- while Jina, faced with the choice, can't bring herself, in the moment, to flee with them. Yet it almost does not matter which path is chosen: greater and better-organized powers ultimately ensnare one and all.
       In this unsettled world, even the greater powers present only a semblance of stability which proves hardly more lasting than any other. Jina's father goes all-in with them, taking again the side of the strong(-appearing) -- even as Jina shows him the absurdity of the situation, in one of the novel's most effective encounters, almost comic in its outrageousness.
       The Epilogue-sections give some sense of what happened to the main characters -- as had already the Prologue, from which we know that Ryu (and her son) are still alive, many decades later. Choi doesn't offer easy, satisfying closure: only Gunji, a relatively minor character (who has always pined for Jina), sums up his experience and fate, living now: "only as nature allows" in a secluded community. The other characters' fates are more indistinct -- though clearly all are marked by what they went through.
       Choi's bleak vision of the ready collapse of civilization is tempered some by the individuals' devotion to each other -- including Ryu's maternal protectiveness, and Dori's dedication to Joy. (Only Jina's father's efforts to ensure his daughter's well-being prove terribly misguided.) The love between Jina and Dori is the strong underlying moving force to the novel, with Choi's subtle presentation of it particularly effective, reïnforcing the sense of it as foundational in a world that is otherwise completely without any certainty or hold.
       Choi doesn't wallow in the horrors of the collapsed world and what happens to the characters, but all of this still weighs heavily on To the Warm Horizon; despite moments of respite and even hope, it is a bleak story. Only in the smallest unit -- family, or individuals bonded by love or relation -- is there much of any hopefulness; beyond that, Choi see little but collapse to the near-basest instincts.
       It is well done, and though readers might wish for clearer resolutions -- what happened to the characters -- as Choi's intentional vagueness is, if (or rather because it is) not so neat, much more appropriate to the tale. Indeed, even for all its bleakness, To the Warm Horizon turns out to be surprisingly -- if not in the obvious ways -- uplifting.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 May 2021

- Return to top of the page -


To the Warm Horizon: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Korean literature

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       South Korean author Choi Jin-young (최진영) was born in 1981.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2021 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links