Guest Post : The Salmon Who Dared To Leap Higher by Ahn Do-hyun trans. Deborah Smith


I am pretty tied up at the moment trying to read my way through the Bailey’s Prize Long-list.I am still being sent some lovely books to read and review and feeling pretty stressed out by it !

When I received The Salmon , by best-selling Korean Poet Ahn Do-hyun ,I knew immediately who would most want to read and enjoy this book : my son Jack Chorley. He’s a real East Asian literature fan and is at home on holiday from Uni at the moment. He only has a dissertation to write so has far more time than me to review books for a blog. So without further ado , over to you Jack.

First of all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone, even if they don’t share my love of East Asian literature . It would make an excellent “first book” when dipping your toes into the often confusing waters of Asian literature. This book is set out almost like a fairytale (it even has pictures in it!!) and follows the story of Silver Salmon as he makes his journey back to the mighty Green River to spawn. Unlike the rest of the salmon in his shoal, however, Silver Salmon is different . He is covered in silver scales, unlike the blue and white ones of his fellow Salmon, and he is also inquisitive about the world around him.

At first, as with a lot of the Asian literature I have read in the past, I thought this book would be about finding identity in the face of normality, even the title of the book seemed to hint at this. I believed this book would be about finding adventure when faced with a strict regime but although the story does deal with this at the beginning, by the end it’s about something else entirely. It has more to do with realizing that there is something bigger than the individual. Silver Salmon struggles with finding meaning in his life and doesn’t understand why he must travel up the Green River to spawn, a fate that means certain death for the salmon. Through his eyes we see the importance of finding your place in nature. Silver Salmon learns these truths through conversing with other aspects of nature such as the leaves, a stepping-stone and the Green River itself.

This is also a love story. Silver Salmon meets Clear-Eyed Salmon, a female in his shoal, and even though biology dictates that they must mate, they decide to do so out of love. Clear-Eyed Salmon teaches Silver Salmon how the see through the “eyes of the heart”, which, for much of the book, means looking through the eyes of nature itself. This enables Silver Salmon to see beauty where he couldn’t before. This, along with some overt messages about the human relationship with nature, gives this book a certain conservational slant.

As a zoologist, I thought the language used by Ahn Do-hyun, and translated by Deborah Smith, and the message it sends is a beautiful and important one. Ahn Do-hyun highlights the human tendency to look at things as “other”, or below us, just like the salmon hawk looks down upon the Salmon. Throughout the story you realize that it is only by looking at nature as a whole and coming to peace with it that we will save it. We must put ourselves in the salmon’s shoes, as it were.

Finally this book is about passing on to future generations the message that the easy way is not always the right way. We must make our own decisions in our lives, even if they do not fit into our idealized view of the world. A salmon should take the salmon’s way, just as we must take the path that is set out for us and not for anyone else. The messages set out in this book are hard-hitting and speak  about a lot of aspects of humans relationship to nature. It may be written simply, but this means the messages are clear and free of pretension or ego. The message is the message, just like a salmon is a salmon.

Thank you to Jack for that wonderful review….not bad for a first attempt. A big thank you to Deborah Smith and Pan Macmillan for the review copy. The Salmon Who Dared To Leap Higher  is published on 9th April.