Exploring “Family” in Yu Miri’s Works

Nineteen years ago, just when I was starting my career as a fiction writer, one of the hottest topics in the Korean literary world was undoubtedly the translated works by the Japan-born author Yu Miri. Before her novel Family Cinema had won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize in 1997, translations of her previous novellas Full House and Bean Sprout, as well as other earlier works including essays and plays, seemed to be pouring into Korea. I had spent those years of my life reading the works of Yu—like myself, a 20-something writer—but at the time Yu was already referred to as a member of the young writers of “pure” literature at the helm of the Japanese literary world. And that is why even now when I come across her name, I immediately think of her as a “writer of our time.”

The reasons Yu Miri had gained so much attention at the same time in both countries was because she was a Zainichi Korean, an ethnic Korean residing in Japan, who wrote fiction in Japanese, and perhaps also, and more importantly, because of how she portrayed the theme of family found in many of her stories. Although I have yet to meet her, Yu’s portrayal of family may also be the reason why it feels as though I have personally known her all these years as a fellow writer. I especially cannot forget the refreshing jolt I had when I first read Full House, the story about a father who goes beyond his means to build a single ramshackle home to reunite his scattered family. The characters of this story reappear in Family Cinema.

When the narrator’s younger sister insists that they should sho...