Fiction

“World’s End Girlfriend” by Kim Yeonsu
Some things tell of what is to come. A moon halo seen out the window after packing for a mountain trek the next day, heart brimming with anticipation; an interviewer you wait two hours to meet, but who just sits with a constipated expression without asking a single question; an empty classroom you wake up to after sleeping for a full hour when you were just planning to briefly rest your head down on the desk, exhausted from working through the night but finally completing the project you were given only a week to finish. Be it the round moon...
“Sky Kong Kong the Pogo Stick” by Kim Ae-ran
A long time ago, there was an old street lamp that stood in front of our, or rather the landlord’s house. Our place sat on the roof of the building so the lamp looked right down at us, especially into the window of the room that my brother and I shared. In those days, the tops of me and my brother’s heads were always soaked in a pool of yellow light. No one knew the age of the lamp. We only knew that it stood there for a very long time, way before I was born, with its neck stretched...
“A Day in the Life of Kubo the Novelist” by Pak Taewon
After a While Kubo decided to walk on. The scorching midsummer sun on his bare head makes him dizzy. He can’t stand here like this. Neurasthenia. Of course, it’s not just his nerves. With this head, with this body, what will I ever accomplish? Kubo feels somewhat threatened by the energetic body and resilient gait of a virile man just passing. Suddenly he regrets having read The Tale of Chunhyang 1 at the age of nine — he had to hide from the watchful eyes of the adults in the family. After a visit with his mother to one of...
Seopyeonje: The Southerners’ Songs by Yi Chung-jun
When the singer had concluded another tan-ga with considerable effort, the traveller made a request. ‘I suppose you are ready for a real song, now that you have warmed up with your tan-ga. How about Chunhyang-ga or Sim Cheong-ga — anything your heart desires, any passage from them — I mean?’ He was now requesting her to sing pansori. However, she was already exhausted — but not from singing songs in preparation for the pansori; she no longer cared whether she had any strength left to go on. As she had become aware that the guest’s breathing was growing increasingly...
“The Golden Phoenix” by Yi Mun-yol
When Kojuk thought of his childhood, he could not help recalling the day he was thrown into the life that became his. How many decades ago was it? Anyway, he was about ten when he was led by his uncle to S ŏ kdam’s old house . . . . . The teacher was only just forty when they first met, but he already looked old and worn out by poverty. “What can I do? I have only you to thrust this burden on. If I weren’t leaving this country, I’d take the boy with me wherever I drift to...
"The Vegetarian" by Han Kang
He opened the sketchbook. The drawings filled scores of pages and, despite being based on fundamentally the same idea, were completely different from the performance poster in terms of atmosphere and artistic feel. The naked bodies of the men and women were brilliantly decorated, covered all over in painted flowers, and there was something simple and straightforward about the ways in which they were having sex. Without the taut buttocks, tensed inner thighs, and the skinny upper bodies that gave them a dancer’s physique, there would have been no more suggestiveness about them than there was with spring flowers. Their...
Evening Proposal by Pyun Hye-young
Kim’s friend ordered the funeral wreath. It had been more than ten years since Kim had seen this friend, who now recognized his voice on the phone. Perhaps he was an inconsiderate person, or merely acting like one, as he completely neglected the formality of greeting Kim or inquiring about his well-being. Without introduction, he simply described the condition of an ill, bedridden man. Only after listening for a few moments did Kim realize that the person on the phone was a friend from long ago and that the ill, bedridden person was an elderly man whom Kim had often...
The Story of a Ladle by Jo Kyung-ran
1 For years I’ve been thinking about balance. Not in the sense that both humans and animals prefer symmetrical facial features, and not about the kind of actual, rational balance that must be considered when climbing onto a balance beam and getting ready for the next move, but about people’s private lives. They look like they’re just barely able to get by, preserving life’s rhythm by keeping their day-to-day routine free of disruption. So when my maternal uncle invited me to live with him, I didn’t think about it much. I spent just twenty-four hours wondering whether it would be...
"Brier Rose" by Jeong Do-sang
We had lunch at a restaurant by the river. She was ugly, but her face held a certain charm. Talking to her about this and that, I found out, to my surprise, that she wasn’t a Korean Chinese, but an overseas Chinese from North Korea. She said that she had Chinese citizenship now and often visited Manpo across the river. “How is that possible?” I asked her, unable to believe that she could go back and forth freely between the North and China. “It’s easy when you have a pass,” she said, grinning. I had so many questions for her...
"The Poet" by Yi Mun-yol
This novel portrays a nineteenth-century Korean poet’s life. Yi Mun-yol traces the course of his hero’s destiny, filled with pain and marked by numerous deviations, from early childhood, through the various stages of his poetic career, until he finally walks out into the night leaving his son gazing after him. [ … ] -Chong-wha Chung and Brother Anthony of Taizé 23 Not all nonconformists are poets. But all poets are nonconformists. Some poets have absolutely none of the usual characteristics of a nonconformist. They are faithful to the normal order of life, laughing at its joys, weeping at its sorrows...

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