- Les Recherches du professeur K (The Research of Professor K)
Tr. Kim Simon 2017253pp.
Reading this collection of short stories by Kim Dong-in, which includes “Potatoes” and other famous works, it is impossible not to sense immediately that one is in the presence of a great writer. As well as vividly evoking 1930’s Pyongyang, the author brings to life the harsh reality—and pleasures—of life in that era. But there is an additional, more complex process at work here: the subtle mixing of realism and reverie, each story taking us on a journey through both Korean history and the various layers of the human psyche.
The realism of Kim Dong-in, the most notable pioneer of this style in twentieth-century Korean literature, lies in the fact that his short stories conceal nothing from us—whether this means the harshness of life and a certain level of poverty, the various pleasures that a city offers all levels of society, the political situation (Japanese occupation, for example), or the enchanting mountainous landscapes around Pyongyang or Seoul.
But what makes these stories truly realist is that each conveys a particular meditation on existence. Where poverty reigns, death lays down its law. Living means learning to fight a losing battle. Morality, then, is merely a set of arrangements that enable us to live another day. Obeying moral or social rules is no guarantee of happiness or unhappiness.