Seven Years of Darkness

You-Jeong Jeong's masterfully plotted Seven Years of Darkness presents two excellent narratives deftly woven together: a thriller inside a thriller. Jeong, author of The Good Son, uses this nesting-doll structure to meditate on the long shadow of trauma and the elusive nature of truth, but it also serves as a clever method for heightening suspense. Jeong makes it obvious that at least one part of the story ends in tragedy, but unfolding why and how it happens reveals a multitude of shocking surprises.

The novel initially follows Sowon, a young man who lives as a pariah thanks to his imprisoned father, infamous for a murder spree that ended in opening a dam and flooding an entire town. Everywhere Sowon goes, a mysterious actor reveals his identity until Sowon is forced to flee to a remote corner of South Korea. When Sowon finds a novel manuscript that seems to describe the events leading up to the so-called Seryong Lake Disaster, readers are launched into a second narrative, a twisty, complicated, potentially truthful account of what really happened in the town by the dam.

Seven Years of Darkness succeeds on the backs of its characters, who can be sympathetic even when they're making mistakes. An accident at the beginning of the novel kicks off events that ricochet unpredictably but remain rooted in the characters' psychological wounds. Jeong's thriller is also part tragedy: a novel about decent men doing terrible things and monstrous men getting away with worse. --Hank Stephenson, manuscript reader, the Sun magazine

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