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Kong’s Garden by Hwang Jungeun
It was at the bookstore where I saw the girl. It was spring, a season that always seemed to drive us crazy with its beginning-of-the-semester frenzy. I was just standing around absentmindedly before the store closed and after I had sent away most of the customers who had rushed in at the same time. We sold cigarettes then. We displayed the cigarettes on locked shelves behind little glass doors by the counter. There were rules about selling cigarettes, and I always followed them. Since students frequented the bookstore, we only sold cigarettes to customers who presented their IDs, except for...
An Evolving Realist, Dreaming of the Unity of Life and Literature
Hwang Sok-yong had already presided over an era of Korean literature with his outstanding works of realism published in the 1970s and 80s, then with his visit to North Korea in 1989 he broke through a barrier in the modern history of Korea itself, and the masterful novels which he wrote in the 2000s following his release from prison have been translated into many languages and published all over the world. He now stands among diverse friends at the very heart of world literature. He is not just one person but three or four. On the cusp of the New...
Jungeun by Hwang Jungeun
The title of this essay is my name. That’s how I spell it in English. It’s spelled the same way on my passport. I began learning English in middle school. It was the first foreign language I learned. I remember staring blankly at the words “Good Morning” and “Good Evening” in my textbook on the first day of class, clueless of how to read them (the classmate who sat with me made fun of me at the time, but I had my revenge later when I used her name in a novel…). Soon after the semester began, I went down...
Jungeun
The title of this essay is my name. That’s how I spell it in English. It’s spelled the same way on my passport. I began learning English in middle school. It was the first foreign language I learned. I remember staring blankly at the words “Good Morning” and “Good Evening” in my textbook on the first day of class, clueless of how to read them (the classmate who sat with me made fun of me at the time, but I had my revenge later when I used her name in a novel…). Soon after the semester began, I went down...
The Place Behind: Contemplating Hwang Jungeun
I once had to call up Hwang Jungeun about doing a book reading. I was on my way back home after finishing a part-time job, so I was distracted during the call. In the middle of my spiel, she interrupted me, “I’m surprised you’re being so formal.” Was she right? Was I being too formal? Still swaddled in the exaggerated politeness demanded by the part-time job, I was stiff. When had I stopped behaving naturally? Or was this more natural for me? It felt as though I’d called her with a mask on, only to have my face exposed. I...
Death by Fiction by Kim Takhwan
Chapter 3 The White Tower Fellowship Learning archery and swordsmanship from Baek Dongsu, a master of equestrian combat, was the greatest boon of my life. I had once tried to call him teacher, but he had refused the honor, proposing instead to become sworn brothers. “I don’t believe in having students. That sort of nonsense is for stuffy scholars. If the difference in age is less than ten years, two people of like mind should become friends. If the difference is greater, and yet you can drink all night in each other’s company, you should declare yourselves brothers! Let’s dispense...
Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah
In Nowhere to Be Found, her second work translated into English following Highway with Green Apples , Bae Suah does more with character and narrative in 60 pages than most novelists accomplish in 300. With concise, evocative prose, Bae merges the mundane with the strange in a way that leaves the reader fulfilled yet bewildered, pondering how exactly the author managed to pull this all off. Plot-wise, Nowhere to Be Found is pretty straightforward. Set, for the most part, in 1988, the unnamed narrator is a young temporary worker at a university in Gyeonggi Province as a sort of administrative...
The Non-Peril of Meeting Your Heroes
I first became aware of Bae Suah four years ago, in my first year studying for a Korean literature PhD. I was struggling through a book of Korean criticism when I stumbled across a critic castigating her for “doing violence to the Korean language.” For me, this was catnip, especially as I’d recently discovered the work of the late Brazilian author Clarice Lispector, neglected in her lifetime due to her unconventional spelling and grammar, now heralded for that same autodidactic originality. The following year I received an LTI Korea grant to translate The Essayist’s Desk, Bae’s semi-autobiographical 2005 novel about...
Flâneur, Fighter, Fiction Writer
Fans of Kim Takhwan can be classified into two groups. Readers who like the clever detective work of The Fellowship of the White Tower , about a band of intellectuals from the latter half of the Joseon dynasty, will find themselves becoming ardent Fellowship fans. The second group will be enthralled by Revolution , the first book in Kim’s Annals of the Joseon Dynasty series. Those who appreciate strong writing and enjoy leisurely savoring a character’s life will identify with the revolutionaries in Hyecho and I, Hwang Jini as well. Kim has also written opuses like The Immortal Yi Sun-sin...
An Artist Who Fails … And Fails Yet Again by Kim Takhwan
What is so special about being a writer? From time to time, I get asked this question. It sounds like a run-of-the-mill question, but answering it isn’t easy. When I started off as a writer, I could afford to be evasive. But now that nearly twenty years have passed, I’ve come up with two answers to this question. The first is that writers are artists who live within overlapping time periods. Anywhere from one year to five years, Kim Takhwan the writer criss-crosses the timeline of the year he is living in and that of the novel he is working...

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