The Silence of Bones
Seol is a damo–a female indentured servant to the police bureau, assisting the male officers with crimes dealing with women. When a noble woman is found murdered, Seol is thrust into an investigation where the primary suspect is the lead investigator. Set in Joseon Korea, Seol questions her loyalty, her beliefs, and her status through this historical mystery.
As a teacher, I am constantly looking for literary books that I can use in my classroom by contemporary authors along with the classics. This is one of those books! Meshing historical fiction about a time and subject I knew nothing about with mystery, Hur creates a literary novel that is both rich in description and characterization as well as page turning. I have so many reasons I loved this book.
The history was beautifully captured. I’m not Korean and I don’t know much about Korea’s history, and this novel depicts not only the cultural norms of the time, but also introduces events and concepts few know about: Catholic persecution in Joseon Korea, damos, and the factional politics of the time.
I’m also a sucker for a good mystery/thriller. While the tension of the mystery isn’t super taut throughout, it is still present and enough to keep turning the page.
One of the things I loved most was the development of Seol, the protagonist. From the start she is a character you admire and relate to. Told from her perspective, she demonstrates her struggles with fitting in to the cultural norms of the time: she’s too curious, too bold, and too headstrong. (I love it!)
Through all of these beautifully demonstrated aspects: Hur weaves themes of family, home, identity, and loyalty.
Seriously, use this book in your classroom.
Since the mystery involves a murdered woman, there is some violence, and descriptions of fairly graphic violence. There is also mention of illegitimate children–which some families may want to be aware of.
The book itself is literary enough to use in a literature class, to discuss both the mystery and historical fiction genre and themes.
Obviously the book lends itself to some serious history lessons. Even if the history of Korea isn’t on the standards or curriculum–add some lessons in because it is fascinating and worth learning about.
Because of the religious persecution, you could also connect it to a civics lesson, taking a look at the rights protected by the Constitution, specifically: the First Amendment.
Seriously, use this book in your classroom!