Three Generations charts the tensions in the Jo family in 1930s Japanese-occupied Seoul. Yom’s keenly observant eye reveals family tensions with profound insight. Delving deeply into each character’s history and beliefs, he illuminates the diverse pressures and impulses driving each one. This Korean classic also brings forth the larger issues at hand, revealing Korea’s situation under Japanese rule, the traditional Korean familial structure, political movements of the 1930s (both national and international), and the battle between the modern and the traditional. Touted as one of Korea’s most important works of fiction, Three Generations gave birth to naturalism in Korean literature.
The novel, filled with gossi and family intrigue as scandalous as any contemporary soap opera, reads deliciously like a Dostoevsky novel or Les liaisons dangereuses meets Korea's traditional middle class.
Much of the tragedy of Korea's modern history stems from the fact that the country came under the colonial domination of Japan just as it was undergoing the transition from a feudal to a modern society. Yom's novel does a masterful job of portraying the complexities of this turbulent situation through the lives of three generations of the Jo family.
— Michael D. Shin
Through the sorrowful lives of three generations of the Jo family, each caught between desire and social expectation, Three Generations chronicles the interior of the old Seoul way of life of the affluent in 1930s colonial Korea, under siege and about to disappear, just as The Makioka Sisters evokes the vanished bourgeois life of prewar Osaka.
— JaHyun Kim Haboush
With deliberation, precision and quiet power, Yom dissects the relationships and traditions within a family wracked by the constraints of heritage and the impersonal crush of history shifting around it. Yet, Three Generations, mellifluously translated by Yu Young-nan, remains relentlessly intimate, exploring emotions and motives with an unsparing eye, an achievement that establishes Yom as one of the century's seminal novelists.
— Edward A. Gargan
One of the masterpieces of early modern Korean fiction.
— The Nation
Can you reach outside your own experience? If you do, you will be rewarded by a lusty soap-opera rife with drinking, brawling, infidelity, and wrangling over a rich man's will, despicable, familiar humanity that transcends any cultural divide. You will find yourself riveted, gasping at the plot twists and explaining urgently to your loved one the conspiracy this or that servant has entered into with a third wife to usurp an absent grandson's share of inheritance. While valuable to its originating nation as a document of the political and social times, the real meat of this novel is the timeless conflict and confluence among strong personalities born into differing social strata. When rendered with understanding and humor, as this is, it makes for a ripping read.
Vividly captures the cultural, moral, and political complexities of the Japanese colonial period through the urban microcosms of bars, stores, noodle shops, streets crowded with trolleys and rickshaws, and centuries-old mansions. His narrative voice [is] a delicate mix of social satire and psychological depth. . . . Continues to resonate some seventy years later.
An enjoyable and quite fast-moving big read.
— The Complete Review