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Tongue: A Novel Paperback – June 23, 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 212 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (June 23, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596916516
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596916517
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,461 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this plodding, reflective novel, bestselling Korean author Jo's first to be translated into English, a young cook spurned in love works her way out of a depressed stupor and up to an implausible, violent act of revenge. Talented cook Jeong Ji-won and her longtime boyfriend, Han Seok-Ju, run a cooking school together, but after he leaves her for an ex-model, Ji-won falls into a funk and returns to the kitchen at Nove, an Italian restaurant where she had previously worked. There, she gradually restores her confidence in life and with a knife. But circumstances surrounding the death of Seok-Ju's dog lead Ji-won to commit a puzzling and violent act of revenge. The narrative's heavy reliance on reminiscing and ruminations about food shortchanges character development; particularly troubling is how little is revealed about Seok-Ju (we do know, however, that he likes steak), so Ji-won's reasons for wanting him back feel hollow and make her grotesque revenge plan tough to swallow. There's more fat than meat on this one. (July)
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"[A] surprising and nuanced novel... reminiscent of Banana Yoshimoto's cult classic Kitchen... It's a clever debut; a simple-looking dish from the outside that, once you bite in, reveals hidden layers and complexity — and a shockingly bitter finish." —

"A sumptuous feast."—Kirkus

"Food is a well-traveled literary metaphor, but here, in a translation by Chi-Young Kim, Jo does marvelous and disturbing things with it, serving up dishes rich with a variety of feelings... And of course there's the most powerful of dishes, the one all the recipes say is best served cold... Buon appetito." —New York Times Book Review (Editor's Choice)

"There are meals that have the power to seduce your taste buds, then your imagination. This is how Kyung Ran Jo writes. Tongue's elegant, erotic tale of heartbreak satisfies just like a perfect meal, then more, because here the last course isn't dessert, but revenge." —Sharon Krum, author of The Thing About Jane Spring



Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Nicole on July 6, 2009
Format: Paperback
The protagonist of Tongue is Ji-won, a cook who's opened up her own cooking school in the home she shares with her boyfriend, architect Seok-ju. Together they have designed her dream kitchen, where she teaches small groups to make breads and Italian food. When Seok-ju falls for a former model taking cooking lessons, he leaves Won alone with his dog Paulie to close up her kitchen and go back to work at the Italian restaurant where she was trained.

The chapters follow Won month after month through a traumatic, isolating breakup. She thinks constantly of food and Seok-ju, works long days in the restaurant taking on extra duties, and falls with Paulie into an abyss of loneliness in the home they once shared with "him." At first her devastation seems normal, then a bit scary, then a bit sad. And after she finds out that Seok-ju has now built their dream home for Se-yeon, who's opening a new cooking school, we see how unmoored Won really has become.

Food, taste, and sense in general are the centerpiece of the novel, and Jo gives Won a very convincing gourmandism. Ji-won spends plenty of time musing on meals she's served to Seok-ju, meals she could serve to get him back. But the sexual angle on food isn't by any means the only one. There are some highly erotic scenes and fantasies, but Won is interested in sensation more generally. Some of the best food discussions are those of her childhood, of her grandmother using a pear reduction to sweeten everything, or cooking plain, earthy meals. The importance of salt, the taste of loneliness, the close association of love and hunger, "physical symptoms that propel your life."

The novel is set in Seoul, but Won mostly cooks Western food and makes a surprising number of Western cultural references.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By K. Gilligan on January 12, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this for a friend who is moving to South Korea. I found it very difficult to find fiction about South Korea that was either contemporary, or about something other than conflict with North Korea. So when I came across this story, it seemed perfect. The chef protagonist is getting over a recent breakup, and the story explores how she rebuilds her life through food. It sounded almost like Eat, Pray, Love except through cooking! And with such a low price, I felt I couldn't go wrong.

While the author (and perhaps the translator?) certainly has a gift with words and description, that was one of only two things I enjoyed about the story. The second is the way that the narrator peppers the audience with little facts about the history of food. For example, while making tiramisu, Ji-won explains that it means "pull me up" in Italian, because of the effects of the expresso in it.

But sometimes these points went a little too far. I felt uncomfortable reading parts of the story... I didn't understand Ji-won's relationship with her mentor, which included a strange sexual/nonsexual? moment of body contact that came out of nowhere and had something to do with the mentor losing his daughter at a young age. I almost felt like that part could have been a story in itself, were it fleshed out and explained a little more.

Ji-won and her Chef mentor aside, there are few other characters. Her ex, the dog they shared, the ex's new girlfriend, Ji-won's uncle, and a friend of Ji-won's are really the only others. While her ex and his new girlfriend were obviously necessary, since this story is about Ji-won's life after the breakup, Ji-won's friend seemed unneeded.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ada Ardor on October 14, 2012
Format: Paperback
WARNING: HUGE SPOILER: Very perverse tale of how a chef is grieving the loss of her architect boyfriend of seven years, who left her for one of her former students, a beautiful model. In grief, the chef closes down her cooking school, returns to work at the Italian restaurant she started at, and in the end, kidnaps the girlfriend, severs and serves her tongue to her ex-boyfriend. The book has these very beautiful, erotic anecdotes about food, spices and gourmands - how a true gourmand does not care about the pain inflicted on an animal as long as it preserves the taste; how you reject everything from a supplier so he will up the ante the next time; how basil is sad and saffron is happy; how personal a knife is to every chef. This book is in translation. It wasn't a pleasant read, nor was the story always inviting, but it was definitely interesting.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By PandaThuy on May 15, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Characters weren't developed, I was disappointed. It's like if a dish looks so good but when you finally get to eat it, it's bland!!! what a let down ....
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