Fiction

Dark Star: the Return of a Classic
Although Yi Mun-yol’s Son of Man begins like a run-of-the-mill detective novel — a policeman under pressure, an unidentified body, bloodstained gloves found discarded in the woods near the crime scene, enigmatic clues, and so on — the narrative quickly takes a turn towards the strange. When the victim is identified as a wayward Christian monk, and a detective by the name of Nam discovers his unfinished manuscript of a novel that rewrites Biblical history, any crime novel clichés are set aside. First published in 1979, Yi’s novel features a double narrative: the detective story becomes a frame novel for...
Unsolvable Family Puzzles
The stories collected in Seo Hajin’s A Good Family are tied together by several recurring motifs, including illness, deception, disillusionment, sexual harassment, and foundering efforts to do what is right. In most of the stories, these individual themes appear within the larger theme of family relations: not only the internal relations of family members to one another, but also a family’s involvement with outsiders and its general position within society. Although Seo’s prose is light and sometimes whimsical, all of these stories harbor an unsettling, fatalistic implication that the correct decision is always out of reach. Seo’s stories are most...
Functional Family Dysfunction
Throughout Modern Family , Cheon Myeong-kwan’s 2010 novel, the narrator, In-mo, describes the story he is telling as a soap opera. Indeed it has all the hallmarks of the genre: sibling rivalries; long-held secrets; high emotion; money troubles; and a long-suffering mother, striving to hold her family together. However, Cheon — who cut his literary teeth as a screenwriter — is not writing a traditional soap opera. Instead he uses the format’s tropes to build a nuanced picture of a contemporary family and to examine the commodification of personal relationships. In-mo, a failed, middle-aged movie director, has been pushed by...
Getting Lost Means Finding One’s Way
Indeed, most readers will find Vaseline- Buddha hard to read: an endless, unfiltered flow of thoughts and memories, strange, ordinary, complicated, simple, philosophical, trivial. After all, that is exactly what most of our thoughts are like—long-winded sentences, a jungle of words, the more complex the grammar, the less clear the meaning—no storyline, no noteworthy characters, no emotional development. And after fifty pages at most, when the author-narrator is still worrying about how he could begin this novel in an appropriate manner, fans of easy-reading literature will have already thrown in the towel. After explaining explicitly to the reader what kind...
Contacting the Beautiful, Dark Truth
The Park Bum Shin novel A Filthy Desk is a tale set in the wretched sixty to seventy-year period of an impoverished Korea, before and during Park Chung-hee’s Yushin government. With special consideration given to the perspective of the populist elements, the realistic background and its descriptions can seem especially violent and brutal, as it takes place under military dictatorship. The country suddenly moved from a traditional and poor society to a modern and industrialized nation, and the young protagonist (also named Yushin) illustrates perfectly the atmosphere of disorientation that followed the destruction of the older society during the reconstruction...
Troubled Lives Find Respite in Art
Seo In-ju, an artist, dies under uncertain circumstances. Jeong-hee, her best friend, does not believe in the theory that her death was a suicide and decides to lift the curtain on the mystery surrounding her friend’s disappearance. Her investigation leads her to discover the Seoul art scene from the inside. This is the basis of Pars, le vent se lève , the first translation of a Han Kang novel into French. While the novel seems, at first glance, to share similarities with the conventions of the detective novel, Han writes with a unique voice that, unlike other, more typical examples...
Stream of Consciousness in a World of Id
As Yi In-seong’s first novel using stream of consciousness, Walk to the Strange Time is a good representation of the fast development of this storytelling device in Korean novels. Yi’s skillful use of the different techniques that distinguish this strategy, including monologue and free association, helps to unfold the authentic experience of a real man, and allows us to see the ever-changing world of Yi’s Id. In this novel, you will not see any of the obvious markers of plot or characterization as seen in the traditional novel form. Indeed, what makes this novel marvelous is that the author deliberately...
The Masterful Children’s Tales of Park Wansuh
Spending long winter nights in grandma’s lap listening to her stories has been a common Korean experience since ancient times. For children these days raised on Disney animation and computer games, grandma’s tales are an unfamiliar genre. Park Wansuh, a leading figure in the Korean literary scene, has published two books to satisfy our society’s nostalgia for grandma’s old tales. The Three Wishes and Thank You for This World are raconteur Park Wansuh’s latest books. The Three Wishes is a collection of short stories imbued with the innocence of children. Young Seulgi’s pictures are an astonishment to her teacher. For...
What Is the Meaning of My Death?
A friend’s death leaves unbearable pain in his young, sensitive friends. However, Jaejun left behind a question about the value of life as well as pain. Lee Kyunghye’s book, I Died One Day is a famous steady seller in the genre of Korean young adult literature. Though the title refers to death, the novel’s theme is about the value of life. Jaejun, a middle school student, dies in a motorcycle accident. Jaejun’s friend Yumi starts to wonder what Jaejun was really like and what his life meant. With the help of Jaejun’s diary, Yumi tries to rebuild the life Jaejun...
Are You Living the Life You Chose?
This book is about the wanderings, agonies, and conflicts of teenagers. Their questions are always difficult for adults because they ask about things that adults try not to think about. All the Beautiful Children is a coming of age novel that deals with teenagers by subtly describing the troubles and worries they endure in the school system. Since its first release in 1996, it has gone through 25 reprints and sold over 50,000 copies, situating it as a bestseller in the genre of young adult literature. A chapter of this book was even excerpted in a high school literature textbook...

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