An Initiation Story for Adults: The Flowering Whale by Kim Hyoung Kyoung

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.2 Winter 2008
  • byJung Yeo-ul
The Flowering Whale

Kim Hyoung Kyoung has not only succeeded as a mainstream novelist but also pioneered a new genre of psychological healing essays. She took up the role of mentor and sent back sincere and helpful replies to readers who shared their intimate problems with her, many of which were too personal to be shared with even family members and close friends. The results are “People Landscape” and “1,000 Sympathies.” Kim, who has long been devoted to examining how people get hurt then go through a healing process, has put out an initiation novel that is targeted for adults.

The Flowering Whale goes beyond a simple initiation story about 17-year-old Ni-eun who tries to tackle personal challenges. The message Kim sends out to her readers is that every generation needs its own initiation drama that is never-ending. Various characters-Ni-eun, her parents who died from a car accident, an old lady who runs the Big Whale Shop and takes care of Ni-eun, a mysterious old man known as Changposu, and Namu, Ni-eun’s ‘former’ best friend-following their own traumatic experiences in life, are in the midst of healing. The novel’s key theme is the intensive initiation that hits people, regardless of age and sex.

Ni-eun finds herself stuck with the deepest sadness in the aftermath of the car accident that took away her parents. The protracted period of shock is chiefly due to the fact that she is unable to vent her sorrow to the full. After all, she is a typical teenager who tends to pretend to always be cool, sophisticated, and happy. She behaved erroneously in order to forget the pain deep inside her body, but her false gestures deepen her already burning wounds. A change comes along when an old lady who runs the Big Whale Shop begins to take care of Ni-eun. The grandmother figure has just begun to learn the Korean alphabet and practices handwriting every day. Ni-eun also begins to have transformative talks with Changposu, who used to hunt whales but is now alienated from the world after whaling was banned.

The most dramatic change, however, comes from Ni-eun’s surging sense of jealousy toward her friend Namu. In the eyes of Ni-eun, Namu seems to have everything. Fighting to overcome jealousy, Ni-eun slowly realizes what is really lacking in herself. Every single person in the world lives with wounds that are hard to forget. Kim’s diagnosis is that people are suffering illnesses not because of deep scars, but because of their unwillingness to truly tackle the pain and say goodbye to the departed. Kim softly nudges readers to learn the right way to let sadness run its course, instead of hiding it underneath the pretentious façade of happiness.