Review: “Seven Years of Darkness” by You-Jeong Jeong

Seven Years of Darkness book cover

The early morning of September 12, 2004, was the last time I was firmly on my father’s side.

Seven Years of Darkness, Prologue opening

Author: You-Jeong JeongChi-Young Kim (Translator)
Publication Date: June 2nd 2020 (first published March 23rd 2011)
Publisher: Penguin Group
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Find it on: Goodreads

Synopsis

A chilling psychological thriller about how far some will go to maintain control–and exact revenge

When a young girl is found dead in Seryong Lake, a reservoir in a remote South Korean village, the police immediately begin their investigation. At the same time, three men–Yongje, the girl’s father, and two security guards at the nearby dam, each of whom has something to hide about the night of her death–find themselves in an elaborate game of cat and mouse as they race to uncover what happened to her, without revealing their own closely guarded secrets.

After a final showdown at the dam results in a mass tragedy, one of the guards is convicted of murder and sent to prison. For seven years, his son, Sowon, lives in the shadow of his father’s shocking and inexplicable crime; everywhere he goes, a seemingly concerted effort to reveal his identity as the reviled mass murderer’s son follows him. When he receives a package that promises to reveal at last what really happened at Seryong Lake, Sowon must confront a present danger he never knew existed.

Dark, disturbing, and full of twists and turns, Seven Years of Darkness is the riveting new novel from the internationally celebrated author of The Good Son.

From Goodreads

Review

You-Jeong Jeong‘s Seven Years of Darkness translated to English by Chi-Young Kim is a powerful and profound Korean psychological thriller that sticks with you long after reaching the end pages.

The book opens with Sowon, a young man whose dad is accused of a series of brutal crimes – the murder of an eleven-year-old girl and her father, throwing his own wife into the river, and opening dam floodgates resulting in the drowning of four police officers and destruction of half the town. Sowon experiences brutal bullying and harsh outlash from his peers and neighbors. The consequences of his father’s conviction haunt him and his older friend Mr. Ahn as they move from school to school, town to town in effort to flee the maltreatment and live quietly undiscovered, but the trauma is intense for young Sowon.

I had to withdraw further into the cold, remote core inside of myself, and wait there, where I was safe. This tenacity was what kept me going – what kept me from killing myself.

Seven Years of Darkness, pg18

Not even 20 pages into the story Sowon is a sympathetic character. His dissociation as a coping mechanism in response to trauma, ostracism, and shame is well-executed and realistic. Already by this point the book hooked me.

From there the story gracefully switches between past and present, showing the terrible chain of events leading up to Choi Hyonsu’s conviction (Sowon’s father) and the current series of suspicious incidents prickling at Sowon and Mr. Ahn in their newest town. Chapter POVs rotate smoothly through the cast of characters each with unique perspectives and motives, including – Hyonsu, the convicted father; Eunju, Hyonsu’s wife; Sowon, son to Hyonsu and Eunju; Seryong, a young girl who disappears; Yongje, doctor and Seryong’s father; and Mr. Ahn, friend, neighbor, and direct report to Hyonsu at Seryong Dam.

There’s a longgg list of content warnings for this book (please reference below and check other sources), but intense depictions of domestic abuse are the most prolific. Many characters experience or deal out abuse in its various forms which can be quite potent to read. This type of content is dark enough, but it dips even further into the concept of death as an escape from the abuser’s poisonous control and traumatic abuse.

That was the only place they hadn’t looked. But this premise was predicated on her death. It would mean she was permanently beyond his reach. He couldn’t think about that.

Seven Years of Darkness, pg106

Overall this was an excellent psychological thriller with a riveting story, gray morality, and a haunting atmosphere. A foggy lake and a town buried under water, escapades in the pitch-black night fleeing through slippery mud, the tragedy of unfulfilled dreams…this book has it all. But most of all it’s a very moving, human story of mistakes, love, and revenge. I’d highly recommend this to any and all thriller readers!

TW: detailed domestic abuse, alcoholism, miscarriage, animal abuse, cutting, rape(please check online for more detailed lists, there’s a lot here ♥)

Original background cover photo credit: Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

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