The Simplicity of the Flipped Palm: Nineteenth Century Korean Short Stories by Park Jong-shik, Kim Jae-guk, et al.

This gorgeously designed book features a foreword and footnotes by linguistics professor A. Trotsevich, which gives the publication an academic feel while also explaining to a more general readership some fundamental aspects of the book. Trotsevich conveys to the reader a sense of unity that connects the short stories without excessive literary or historical detail. There is an explanation for why it is unclear whether the author is Kim Jae-guk or the editor, in the epigraph that also acts as the last story of this book. The resulting circularity strengthens the book’s sense of structure.

 

The foreword explains why the authors of these stories are anonymous, what is included in nineteenth-century short story collections, and what motifs are prevalent therein. Trotsevich, from a functionalist perspective, lists and examines what comprises the syuzhet: the Chinese Emperor as a “test tube,” a talentless but merciful official who is rewarded for his good deeds, and a young woman ready to sacrifice everything for those she holds dear. Trotsevich also mentions the differences between nineteenth-century Korean short stories and Korea’s traditional literature. A new kind of protagonist emerges in these new stories, someone “concerned with real-life problems, such as how he was going to make a living or become an official.” Folksy, supernatural motifs had to give way.

 

The foreword absolutely, fairly, and objectively describes the ...