Book review: The Dog Farm – David S. Wills

Hunter S. Thompson would’ve been proud.

Forget what you know about Korea. Forget what you know about teaching English. Forget the screaming five-year-olds and impossible bosses screaming Korean obscenities. This is one part sex, one part drugs, and one part a search for rock-and-roll in the land of K-pop. Did I mention it’s a book?

The Dog Farm starts as any possibly-auto-biographical-but-actually-a-novel tale does: arriving in a new place. It’s on page 3 where the line between fact and fiction begins getting blurry, and by page 10 you’ve probably given up at trying to decipher which is which. It’s clearly a fictional tale, however, as there’s nary a positive word spoken about Korea or her residents until page 60. Just don’t play the drinking game where you drink for every obscenity you read, or you’ll be out cold before you get there.

If you’re the sort that enjoys fiction for the plot, the basic premise starts with Alexander’s arrival in Korea – starting off at a crooked hagwon with co-workers who have adopted the lifestyle Korea offers. Between the frank dialogues incorporating alcohol and sex as major plot developments (we are adults, right?), Alexander eventually adapts to a life halfway across the world from his native Scotland. He dates a Korean woman, who turns out to be a prime sufferer of the Kimchi Rage. He meets up with a girl with bleached hair and giant breasts, only to later realize it was his friend’s girlfriend. The inevitable beating forces Alexander to consider Japan, which is where part two begins. In the span of a month, Alexander finds it harder to adapt to Japan, and eventually comes back to Korea and finds a job in the nick of time. Despite that job not working thanks to the previous employer, things begin looking up for our man Alexander. It’s in this context where the ending comes as a shock – naturally, you’ll have to pick up the book yourself to find out.

While the story seems to incorporate many horror stories expats have heard (or experienced) regarding Korea, the author’s real-life experience differed greatly. In the words of author David S. Wills, Alexander is “a fairly tragic character, always pushing towards his own doom.” He has little resemblance to the expats you’ll actually find in Korea, except perhaps for the few that manage to give the rest of us a bad name. The ups don’t quite balance out the downs in the story, though some are present – and make the story a bit more palatable.

The title comes courtesy of a boshintang (dog meat soup) restaurant, which Alexander steadfastly refuses to partake in.  This scene reminds me somewhat of J.D. Salinger’s classic Catcher in the Rye, as if it were Holden Caulfield himself calling out the Korean belief on what dog meat does for men’s virility.

The Dog Farm is much like a gin and tonic – a bit too bitter for some and just what the doctor ordered for others. For better or worse, there’s no middle ground here; you’ll either love it or hate it. Pick it up on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Waterstones, or learn more at the author’s website.

Recommended, if you read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, anything by Allen Ginsberg or the Beat Generation.




13 Responses

  1. Chris in South Korea

    You seem like a good guy, but personal attacks are a no-no. Attack the review or the book if you like – from indications I’ve seen thus far the book has received a fair amount of positive press.

    Then again, that might require you to *read* the book.

  2. wetcasements

    I don’t need to read something by a guy who calls Koreans “rice-tards” and “peasants” to know what the score is. Not to mention a guy who had to nuke a former blog because it had become a playground for racist Korea bashing. Not to mention a guy who refers to children as “cunts.”

    Like I said, bad move on your part. Very disappointing.

  3. Kaitlin

    From the description, this seems like the type of book that’s trying to go so overboard it curves around to make it’s point – maybe about Alexander’s drive to doom. I’ll just have to read it and see I suppose.

  4. John from Daejeon

    Great review, Chris. I might just have to give it a read.

    Wetcasements, there are quite a few great writers that I’ve come across over the years that held beliefs/moral codes far removed from mine, but that isn’t to say that they didn’t add some truly great works of art to our world (Ernest Miller Hemingway and John Wood Campbell, Jr.) are two that come quickly to my mind.

    By the way, for a look at what the South Korean public gets to see in print about native English teachers check out another great blog: Gusts of Popular Feeling

    While I know that the vast majority of the public doesn’t think like this, it’s the squeaky (complaining) wheel that usually gets the grease (press).

  5. John

    You do yourself no favors when you spew this hate against Mr Wills, having never read his books. I suspect that Dog Farm will be shit but I will give it a try and let people know my honest opinion. Chris’s review makes it sound surprisingly good s o I’ll keep an open mind. Perhaps if you posted some intelligent criticism I would be inclined to not purchase a copy, but instead you are doing him a favor by being so ignorant.

  6. wetcasements

    How many sock puppets does David have going now? Let’s see — two in this thread, one over at his place.

    Very amusing! Let’s hope his book racist screed against “rice-tards” breaks into three-digit territory!

  7. Chris

    I cant believe that someone would read this garbage. The author badmouths Korea and the people. True, that it isnt a picnic here, but then again nowhere is a picnic. That doesnt mean you talk negative about them and try to profit off of your own stupidity.
    Fail on all levels