Having come across so many positive reviews, I grabbed the book without hesitation after spotting fresh copies of Yoon Tae-ho’s acclaimed graphic novel called Misaeng (未生) 1-3 in my school library. I finished them on the spot. It was tremendously satisfying.
According to the Korea Baduk Association, “misaeng” literally means “not alive yet.” In my understanding, it is a baduk (Go) term for the in-between state in which a stone can either live (完生) or die. It also describes the lives of many corporate employees who must trudge on until they are “completely alive.”
In this graphic novel, the protagonist Jang Gu-rae is a promising and diligent baduk apprentice who has invested in the sport since he was little. When he fails to qualify as a professional player, he vows to quit in despair because that is the only option for Gu-rae, with his father dead and mother having to take on menial jobs to support both of them. But he’s only known baduk all his life.
Through an acquaintance Gu-rae lands an internship at a general trading company where he must prove his worth in order to secure a more permanent position. Although Gu-rae is a stranger to this collective world where people constantly juggle multiple roles, push for outcome and carefully navigate each other’s motives to gain an edge, he realizes that much of what he has learned through baduk can be applied to understanding and surviving the new life.
The story of Gu-rae is interlaced with the stone-by-stone broadcast of the fifth and final game of the historic match between Nie Weiping and Cho Hunhyun at the 1st Ing Cup. This arrangement works to create suspense and food for thought as readers are invited to contemplate the meaning behind each move and how that may translate to the choices that Gu-rae and his colleagues make in their corporate drills. If nothing at all, you will appreciate baduk a lot more by the time you’re done reading.
Yoon and his apprentices do a fine job of capturing the often gray cityscape and its inhabitants who, nevertheless, maintain their humanity and humor, winning our empathy and respect. They also do their job. The dialogues are compelling and funny when they need to be. Misaeng has won several reputable awards.
I’ve only read the first three books of five and can’t wait to read more. Misaeng is also available through Daum’s webtoon services where it is updated twice a week. The free views are likely to suspend once the series is completed.