To Observe, Observe, and Observe

Kim Junghyuk, who is in the vanguard of contemporary Korean literature along with writers like Kim Ae-ran, Pyun Hye Young, and Yoon Sunghee, made his debut sixteen years ago. The jacket of his latest book, Embracing with Fake Arms, which won the Dongin Literary Award last year, sports a rather unusual author bio: a listing of his published titles, numbering around thirty short-stories and three novels, and nothing more. Kim is a versatile artist, having tried his hand at a number of roles like magazine reporter, illustrator, and web designer before debuting as a writer, and he’s still very much active as an essayist and podcaster. He once mentioned in an interview that he’s in a constant state of preparation for his writing, and that all this preparation entails is: “Observe, observe, and observe.” He said he enjoys talking to people and likes to note down the impression they make on him and the conversations they share. There’s nothing really surprising about his admission that these notes help him breathe new life into his characters, but it gives you an idea of how special the pleasure and gift of practicing the craft of writing is to him, as well as the significance of characters to his novels.

     I’m a devoted reader of Kim’s books but I’ve only met him a couple of times in person-chance encounters at literary gatherings where we happened to share the same table. The impression I formed of him from only this handful of meetings is that he’s a likable guy, perhaps because of his natural affabili...