Byeong-mo Gu, Wizard Bakery (Korean 2009, French 2011)

This is my second foray into Korean middle-grade literature (after this one) and I love it! I know that reviewing such a book doesn’t get me many comments and doesn’t make much noise in the book-blog-world but if it even contributes to a tiny extent to grow the book’s reputation, that will be fine with me.

I don’t know how mature Korean middle-grade readers are compared to other countries, but the tale told by Wizard Bakery seems very harsh and cruel to me and doesn’t show Korean contemporary society under a good light to say the least. Expect quite heavy stuff under this fantasy title. Probably this book is as much for adults as for teenagers.

The main character is an unnamed 16 year old boy whose mother has committed suicide when he was a child and whose step-mother, Mrs. Bae, is bullying him. His father is a typical patriarchal Korean macho, away at work or distant at home, who only got married again so that his household would be taken care of. As a result of his deep unhappiness, the teenager stutters and hardly ever interacts with others (except by letters to teachers as a last resort – and no adult seems to want to intervene). A loner who wants to keep away from his step-mother as much as possible, the boy feeds himself from cakes bought at a neighbourhood bakery. The baker and the bakery are peculiar, but he keeps coming back because it’s cheap and open 24/7.

One day, his luck turns for the worst when his 8 year old step-sister wrongly accuses him of rape and his step-mother beats him up. Unable to defend himself, he runs away and finds refuge at the bakery. He discovers that the baker is a wizard, and the shop assistant with blue hair no ordinary girl. The bakery prepares cakes with special powers and sells them through a website. The boy becomes wizardbakery.com webmaster and gets familiar with the strange product list.

Witchcraft in this book is never far from real life. There’s no grandiose epic or high moral quandaries, it’s definitely no Harry Potter. No magical cake from wizardbakery.com will solve all this boy’s troubles. More often than not, the cakes’ special powers create problems to customers who have bought them doubting of their efficiency. Magic can backfire, and the baker doesn’t want humans to shift all the blame on him if they have used magic with evil intentions (it’s a gruff but interesting character: magic gift is not something he has sought but he sees it as a burden rather than a gift, and he’s neither benevolent nor perfect).

There are 2 alternate endings to the novel, none of which happy and pink. People do not change even with magic interactions, and people can’t evade responsibility. It’s a rather stern conclusion to this brilliant book that doesn’t shy away from the most dramatic situations.

I don’t think the book has been translated to English but I wish it would!

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5 thoughts on “Byeong-mo Gu, Wizard Bakery (Korean 2009, French 2011)

  1. Pingback: Lee Geumyi, Yujin and Yujin (Korean, French 2011) « Smithereens

  2. I’m a Korean and I’ve read the book three times already! it’s true that the reality in the story is very harsh and the things said by the shopkeeper aren’t always cute and fluffy, but most Korean teenage literature aren’t like that. Most of them are about teenage-romance, school fighting/bullying, and family problems. Wizard Bakery shines a peculiar, one-of-kind light on the last subject compared to many other books, and yes the book is rather unsuitable for elementary students. But it doesn’t change the fact that the book is a good one and everybody, kids and adults alike, should read it. I’m glad you enjoyed the book so much 🙂

  3. I wish it was translated into English, too! Thank you for the review, I’ve been very curious about this book ever since hearing about it from a Korean friend.

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