Almond is a book about a guy named Yunjae who can’t identify emotions (his and others). He has a brain disorder called alexithymia.
The book tackles how he grew up not being able to tell how he is feeling. Is he sad, scared, or happy? He can’t tell. He also doesn’t know how to “react” to things that go around him. His mother has “trained” him to distinguish human emotions through facial expressions in an attempt to “make him normal”.
As the story unfolds, Yunjae met some people who helped him grow and get to know himself more, his thought process and maybe emotions too. One of the characters here, Gon, is the total opposite of Yunjae. Gon is full of emotions – anger, despair, envy, all of it. The contrast of these two characters really amazed me.
One of the lines that really stuck with me is, if it bleeds, it hurts. I don’t know why. Maybe because it holds both figurative and literal meanings.
This is not really a review but more of a book discussion. Recently, in this platform where I study Korean, we got the chance to discuss Almond. There are a couple of questions given to us, and I think it would be great to post it here in case anyone is interested to read Almond too.
There is no a spoiler here. Kinda. This book doesn’t have those typical major plot twists. The beauty of it is not in its prologue or ending; it is in the experience you get while seeing the world through someone who can’t identify emotions.
The author starts the book by talking about happy and tragic endings. What do you think of this book’s ending? Was it a happy or a tragic one? Why do you think the author claimed it cannot be put into either of the categories?
If the author claimed that the story is BOTH happy and tragic, we can think that it’s because someone’s story doesn’t really end, perhaps not until death. In this story’s ending, Yunjae is just about to start “adulthood”. He can still go through much suffering than he already did, which is tragic. But then, he can also find more happy moments, whether it’s in little or grand scheme of things. Since the author claimed it CANNOT be put into either of the categories though, we can think that it’s because Yunjae still has alexithymia after all. In his point of view, until the end, he can’t quite tell if it is happy or tragic. Or both.
The book revolves around Yunjae’s point of view with Gon who has a strong emotional print beside him. How do you think this affected the language used in the book? Were you able to feel the emotional detachment Yunjae had while reading through his voice?
I absolutely love the contrast between Yunjae and Gon. I can say I am Gon in the story. I also feel how frustrated he is of Yunjae because like him, I thrive (or self-destruct) in emotions. I can feel the jealousy too because sometimes, you just want to stop feeling anything since it tends to be really overwhelming. I can sense the detachment in the dialogues and lines of each character.
“‘Good for you… Fucking good for you that you feel nothing. I wish I could be the same…’ he mumbled through his cries.”
“Most people could feel, but did not act. They said they sympathise, but easily forgot. The way I see it, that was not real. I didn’t want to live like that.” Do our actions match with what we say? Or do we only act when it’s convenient for our momentary emotions?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I believe we are all a living paradox. There are moments, lots of it, where our actions do not match what we say. Sometimes, we only act when it’s convenient for our momentary emotions. There will always be conflicting feelings. There will always be days where we feel like hypocrites. But I think, we are all trying anyway – to align the heart with the mind. It’s hard. Sometimes, we will fail to do so. But there will be instances where we can find these little triumphs along the way. Self-awareness. Constant learning. It’s a life-long process.
In the beginning of the book, we read about Yunjae’s confusion about being called a monster by his grandmother. Negative connotations as endearment words are being normalized everyday around us. As the society becomes more desensitized to these terms, what possible problems you can see for two children, one such as Yunjae and one such as Gon?
The problem with Yunjae’s grandma calling him “monster” is the fact that Yunjae has alexithymia. Even tho he is being called monster with so much love and endearment (in tone and gestures), it can still confuse Yunjae because of his condition. And of course, he knew all his life that he is “different”, and sometimes, people connote “different” as “bad” so there’s that as well. With Gon, he grew up with lack of love, compassion, and understanding towards himself and from people around him. If he is to be called a “monster”, he will convey it as bad because that’s what he thinks of himself. “‘Cause if I am not a monster, maybe I will be loved, right? I won’t feel lonely, right?” I can see Gon thinking that.
“What does it mean to be like others? When everyone is different, who should I follow? What would Mom say?” Living in a society where we have to fit in but also outstand to succeed, what do you think of our differences? Thinking of the entirety of the book, is being like others what makes us a society, or can we live together with all our uniqueness?
Okay, this is my favorite line. One of the reasons is that, I never like to fit in. I want to be different. I am Aquarius Rising (hahahaha I’m into astrology, sorry). So yea, I think we are all different and alike at the same time. I don’t think we like to “fit in”. I think, as a society, we want to “belong”. Fitting in, we can say that it means being like everybody else. You want to be the same with others because you think that you will be “accepted” that way if you are the same as them. I think that’s when we fail as a society. But if we strive to belong instead.. we will be much happier. Belongingness, for me, is when we embrace each other’s differences and accept it as what it is. No ideals. No judgement. Just us learning from one another. Growing together. Understanding each other.
Which cover of the book do you have? What do you think of the cover? How do you think it reflects the book?
My cover is the one with a pink blank face. I didn’t really think about what I think of it. Hahaha I just realized now that it reflects the book perfectly because the face doesn’t have any sign of emotion, so much like Yunjae, we can’t tell if the person on the cover is feeling anything since we usually judge people’s reactions/emotions through facial expressions.
General opinions about the book?
As someone who is always dim as “too sensitive”, this is a refreshing read for me. I didn’t know such brain condition exists. I find prosopagnosia extreme, but alexithymia is really something else too. This is one of those books that can make you rethink the way you live and how you see (or feel) things and people around you.
“To Yunjae, love is not confined in a box — he did not have any box to begin with.”
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