The Neighborhood Makes the Name: Oksu-dong Tigers by Choi Ji-un

  • onOctober 27, 2014
  • Vol.20 Summer 2013
  • byKang Yu-jung
Oksu-dong Tigers

In South Korea, the name of the district you live in is not merely a name. It is a mark of one’s rank and a manifestation of one’s class. That is the reason why people are obsessed with the image of their neighborhood. There are those who will work their whole lives in order to obtain a certain address.

Oksu-dong Tigers, a novel by Choi Ji-un, uses such facts about social status as a backdrop. The author has depicted the fictional space of “Oksu-dong” as a place where affluence and poverty, the upper and lower classes, and pretentions and truths, are all intermixed. Oksu-dong, which had been a poor neighborhood, has a demarcation line, that is, before and after redevelopment. In fact, the residents of the reconstructed area claim that they will not even share the same name. They want to quickly eradicate all traces of any remaining stigma of poverty.

The author describes to the reader two virtual schools, Yonggong Technical High School and the Joongang Foreign Language High School, which highlight the realities of class difference, as they exist by way of spatial differentiation. If the houses where grown-ups live indicate their class, then the labels for their children’s schools, “technical” and “foreign language,” are also marks of discriminatory significance. The strange logic that a foreign language high school is superior to a technical high school is not only applicable to Oksu-dong.

Through humor and allegory, the author has transformed this serious social issue in the form of questions. The author’s view of Korean society, which is dominated by the status derived from one's family lineage, regionalism, and educational credentialing, is quite critical. Choi Ji-un’s original and experimental style, combined with suspenseful storytelling, makes this debut stand out. 

Author's Profile

Choi Ji-un is a writer. Born in Yeosu, South Jeolla Province in 1979, he made his literary debut in 2012 when his novel Oksu-dong Tigers won The Korea Economic Daily New Writer's Contest. Oksu-dong Tigers is his first novel.