Truth and falsity, fiction and reality, stories inside stories, and stories outside stories all meet and are reconstructed in Choi Jae-hoon’s work. It is both “stranger than fiction” and a smorgasbord of “too strange to be false”-reality, storytelling, and imagination that goes beyond even the wildest fiction.
- Suh Heewon, “To sleep is to die, and to dream”
All types of love exist in the world. There are even people that are in love with shoes, stockings, corpses, and baseball bats. Love operates in mysterious ways, so it’s not surprising to meet a man in love with Moebius. Or more accurately, a man in love with the Moebius strip. Enthralled by the curious ribbon that is both many and one, one and many (try cutting the strip laterally), Choi Jae-hoon’s writing resembles the object of his love. That is to say, it is twisted.
Suh Heewon: You didn’t become a novelist right away. You majored in business administration, but went on to study creative writing after graduation, rather than work at a company. Then afterwards, you worked at your alma mater on the administrative staff. Fast forward a few years, you quit your job to devote more time to writing and then got your first book published a year later. How did you come back to literature from the brink of worldly success?
Choi Jae-hoon: I wasn’t very interested in fulfilling my own desires. I thought, isn’t it enough to let life take its natural course? I could’ve just been someone who liked reading, but my military service changed me. I became more realistic about what I wanted to do, so to speak. Living a highly controlled and disciplined lifestyle made me look back at my life and desires. When I went back to school, I started reading more than ever, mostly classics. I would make lists of books to read and kept my own notes on them.
Suh: There’s a saying in Korea, “One becomes a man when he goes to the army.” Going to the army is thought of as the first step to entering the real world. You’ve said that you first experienced society in the army and spent the time there reflecting on yourself. This must be the kind of perspective that differentiates an artist. As someone who got his start in art through voracious reading, what books made an impression on you in your youth?
Choi: Like most people, I was strictly a reader at first. I thought that writing was for people with a special gift. The book that first made me think that I too could write was J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. I think there’s a kind of trigger in that book that brings something out in the reader. I later learned that the book is a favorite among assassins. I thought that was a striking coincidence. You could say that that book assassinated my other self, the me that was living peacefully, and the person I am now survived to write books.
Suh: How did you begin your life as a writer?
Choi: I began learning about fiction and started writing in earnest when I entered the creative writing department. But I had very different ideas about writing from what we were taught. I was an oddball. Remember, that was the era of Shin Kyung-sook, Jo Kyung-ran, Ha Seong-nan. It was all about the descriptive novel, and that was how we were told to write. I was more interested in the fiction of writers like Baek Min-seok. When I quit my job, I looked at my bank account and decided I could do nothing but write and still live off my savings for two years. So for one year, I just wrote. The next year, I began writing to submit. “Baron Quirval’s Castle,” the first story I ever published, was the first one I wrote after quitting my job. That was when I wrote stories like “The Hidden Cases of Sherlock Holmes,” “Her Knot,” and “Maria, You Know What, Maria.”