The Plotters (book)
The Plotters is a Korean fiction novel written by Kim Un-su, originally published in 2010. It was later translated into English by the acclaimed translator, Sora Kim-Russell, in 2019 – 9 years after its original publication year. Set in Seoul, the story follows Reseng – a highly trained hitman, who has to follow strict orders from people called ‘The Plotters’. They are a network of unknown, but supposedly powerful, people who have control over how the underground assassination world functions.
The Plotters follows Reseng, a 32-year-old assassin who was an orphan and adopted by Old Raccoon at the age of four. Reseng grew up in Old Raccoon’s library called ‘The Doghouse Library’, which was an assassination guild that used to dominate the market and boasted of weapons, assassins, and bounty hunters. This is all Reseng ever knew because he never went to school and thus never had any friends. However, he still taught himself how to read because it was the only way to cure his boredom while living in The Doghouse. Reseng became an assassin in his late teens. The move from dictatorship to democracy in South Korea caused a ‘major boom’ in the assassination industry, a new free market (colloquially known as ‘the meat market’ amongst the characters) where corporations generated far more work than the state, and the contractors’ primary clientele shifted from public to private. The Doghouse Library often hosted many individuals, particularly the higher-ranking ones, from ‘the meat market’. ‘The Meat Market’ consists of assassins, bounty hunters, weapons, clientele, and the ‘Plotters’. The ‘Plotters’ is a network of mysterious individuals who plan out killings and provide the ‘contractors’ with the details and instructions – who the target is, what they look like, how much they weigh, their occupation, hobbies, movements, names of all the people they are related to or involved with, how the body should be disposed of and even the time of day the killing should be carried out. Reseng, being an assassin, is one of the people that follow these instructions. However, one day he decides to stray from the instructions and allow his intended victim to choose how she dies. From then on, Reseng feels like his every move is being watched. He believes the ‘Plotters’ are responsible for this, perhaps as a warning for breaking the rules. Despite the odds being against him, and his days being numbered, Reseng hopes to escape from the watchful eye of the ‘Plotters’.
A 32-year-old assassin who lived in a convent orphanage until the age of four, when he was adopted by Old Raccoon. It was from then he grew up in The Doghouse Library. He’s of average height and has been in the meat market industry for fifteen years. Reseng never attended school but taught himself the alphabet and cured his boredom by reading. He lives on his own in his apartment with his two cats: Desk and Lampshade. Reseng is sarcastic, cold, and cynical, although there are times when he shows his true feelings.
Old Raccoon’s age is unknown; however, it is detailed that he has been in the industry for around sixty years. He is cold and cynical. His family looked after The Doghouse Library since he was small, his father being the one to perform maintenance on the building, as they lived in a small house attached to the side of the library. During his childhood, he suffered from polio and now has a permanent limp from it. At the age of fifteen, he became a librarian and later became head librarian. Eventually, he got caught up as a middleman for the plotters and assassins.
Hanja, a former Library member, is a foreign-educated businessman who modernized the ‘meat market’ from the old days of a free-for-all to an official business by turning it into the guise of a security business. His assassination business dominates the market and competes with Old Raccoon and The Doghouse Library. Reseng once recalled that by the time he arrived at The Doghouse Library, Hanja was already in university. He is described as a ‘true gentleman’.
Bear, a man who is described to be orangutan sized and as harmless as Winnie-the-Pooh, is a father of two daughters, who also runs a small pet crematorium (Bear’s Small Pet Crematorium). However, this crematorium is frequented by assassins to get corpses disposed of, which Bear cremates on the sly for extra money. He is the most sought-after person to assist in body disposal and even has his own ritual when cremating the corpses – almost as a sign of respect for the deceased.
The English translation of the book is written by translator Sora Kim-Russell and is one of the 15 books she has translated. The English translation was written 9 years after the original publish date and was given the lease to be published with the support of the Korean government and funding of the Literature Translation Institute of Korea (LTI Korea), which played a key role in bringing the translation to light. Also, the international success of Kim-Russell’s other translation ‘The Hole’ by Pyun Hye-young boosted the idea and gave her the opportunity to write the book. Kim-Russell has won many awards for her book translations including The Plotters, which has won two awards: the 2018 GKL Korean Literature Translation Award and the 2019 LTI Korea Translation Award. In a review from The Guardian, Kim-Russell’s translation of the book was described as “both seamless and intriguingly provoking”.
The Plotters received plenty of positive reviews from its UK and US audience, who praised Kim for taking the readers on “a ride with both action and contemplation”, and comment on the popular main spark of interest being the captivating plot that “will also keep the readers delightfully off-balance”. Reseng is described to be a “mesmerizing central character” and “stoic” by The Washington Post.
Though the book has received positive reviews, there is also a handful of mixed reviews. One reviewer suggested ” between the convoluted plotting and myriad stylistic intentions, Kim hasn’t identified a clear target to hit” and that it’s “an energetic mashup of thriller tropes that doesn’t quite jell”.