Apartment Fiction by Pyun Hye Young

A large proportion of homes in Seoul are in multipurpose residential compounds called apartment complexes. Following the construction of a large complex in 1964 of a similar design to those of the present day, apartment complexes have expanded and been built all throughout the city. The first modern apartments built with the concept of being a complex were in a district of Seoul called Mapo, which is also where I currently live.

     When I have to introduce the writer “Pyun Hye Young” to people, sometimes I want to begin by talking about this. What I mean is to point out that, in 1964 in the neighborhood where I now live, a multipurpose residential complex was built with an odd appearance, completely out of keeping with other forms of residential buildings in Seoul at the time. It was seen by some as a revolutionary means of solving the problem of overcrowding and lack of housing, but on the whole it had to withstand criticism from the perspective of aesthetics and popular sentiment.

     Now there is no trace of the first apartment complex which once stood in Mapo—those apartments were demolished and replaced—but the whole area, aside from a few small exceptions, is piled high with apartments. Quite fittingly, I have been living close to where that first apartment complex, Mapo Apartments, once stood for over a decade now.

On top of that, I find myself wanting to tell people that I was born in Seoul and lived in Seoul the entire time was growing up. In fact, I have never spent more than two months away from the city; the longest holiday I’ve ever been on was two months.

     Of course, I usually choose to talk instead about things like when I first started to write novels and what kinds of books I have had published. It’s a far clearer way to explain myself as a writer than talking about how I was born in Seoul and have lived all my life in apartment complexes.

In truth, I do occasionally bring up the topics of Seoul and apartments first. In which case, I frequently make a mess of trying to explain “the novelist Pyun Hye Young” with such information. Having been born in Seoul and lived only in apartment complexes is, at least in South Korea, something completely unremarkable. There must be an overwhelmingly large number of just such people.

     Nevertheless, once in a while, the fact that I was born in Seoul, grew up in the city, lived in the multipurpose residential form of an apartment complex and have never lived outside the city for more than two months—this hardly a notable piece of information—seems hugely important to my work as a writer.

What influence has the city of Seoul and the architectural form of the apartment in which I have always lived had on my writing? I’m sure they have made their mark, but I don’t feel I can assert exactly what form that influence has taken. One thing that comes to mind is that most of my works are vaguely set in the city of Seoul, and are indebted to the form of space that is an apartment.

     Generally, the characters in my novels are office workers in the lined up skyscrapers of the city. They spend their everyday lives as office workers in a crowded chaos that puts them on edge making them exhausted, then when they leave the office they return to an apartment and fall asleep feeling at ease with their tranquil routine. It’s a city that they long to leave but in fact feel most at ease when within its spaces; a city with which they are disen...

Pyun Hye Young is an assistant professor of creative writing at Myongji University. She has received the Hyundae Literary Award, Yi Sang Literary Award, and Dongin Literary Award. The French edition of Aoi Garden (Dans l’antre d’Aoï Garden) was published by Decrescenzo éditeurs and Ashes and Red (Cendres et rouge) by Philippe Picquier. The Hole and Ashes and Red are forthcoming from Arcade Publishing in 2017.