[De Novo] Best First Lines in Korean Lit

  • onDecember 21, 2020
  • Vol.50 Winter 2020
  • by



   [Latin] from the new

What are some of the most memorable lines in contemporary Korean fiction? We posed this question to students of Korean language and creative writing departments in Korea. Here are some of their selections.—Ed.



Kim Jiyoung is thirty-three years old, or thirty-four in Korean age.

김지영 씨는 우리 나이로 서른네 살이다.



Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

by Cho Nam-joo, trans. Jamie Chang

Simon & Schuster UK, 2020

82년생 김지영, 조남주

민음사, 2016



"My name is Sora.

The ra in Sora means water parsley, and in Hanja is written 蘿. They’d meant to use the character for fruit, 蓏, but my grandfather bungled the listing on the family register, and fruit became a herb."

"내 이름은 소라.

소라의 리는 미나리 라蘿. 본래 열매 라蓏를 사용할 예정이었으나 호적에 이름을 올리러 간 할아버지의 실수로 미나리가 되었다."



I'll Go On

by Hwang jungeun, trans. Emily Yae Won

Tilted Axis Press, 2018

계속해보겠습니다, 황정은

창비, 2014



"Looks like rain," you mutter to yourself.

비가 올 것 같아.



Human Acts

by Han Kang, trans. Deborah Smith

Portobello Books, 2016

소년이 온다, 한강

창비, 2014



To relinquish Seoul seemed the only plausible way to assure their return to it.

서울을 버려야 서울로 돌아올 수 있다는 말은 그럴듯하게 들렸다.


Namhan Fortress

by Kim Hoon, Hakgojae, 2007

trans. Min Kyong-jin, Donald MacLeod Harrison

남한산성, 김훈

학고재, 2007

For publication inquires, please contact the publisher



Cheonji who'd been preparing for tomorrow died today.

내일을 준비하던 천지가, 오늘 죽었다.


An Elegant Lie [Thread of Lies]

by Kim Ryeoryeong, Changbi 2009

우아한 거짓말, 김려령

창비, 2009



It's been one week since Mom went missing.

엄마를 잃어버린 지 일주일째다.



Please Look After Mom

by Kyung-sook Shin, trans. Chi-Young Kim

Vintage Contemporaries, 2012

엄마를 부탁해, 신경숙

창비, 2008



The days here are short and the nights here are long.

이곳의 낮은 짧고 이곳의 밤은 길다.


Though You Said It Easily

by Lee Juran, Munhakdongne, 2019

쉽게 말했지만, 이주란

문학동네, 2019



"I dig my hands into the cold sand and gaze at the black, shimmering sea.

It feels like the edge of the universe."

"나는 차가운 모래 속에 두 손을 넣고 검게 빛나는 바다를 바라본다.

우주의 가장자리 같다."


Shoko's Smile

by Choi Eunyoung, trans. Sung Ryu

Penguin Books, Forthcoming 2021

쇼코의 미소, 최은영

문학동네, 2019



His car revealed pretty much everything about his life. The back seat was loaded with things, and the front passenger seat was piled with miscellaneous possessions to which he needed immediate access, so although the car had the capacity to seat five people, in actuality, it existed for Gong Sangsoo and no one else.

그의 차로 말할 것 같으면 그의 인생을 모두 보여준다고 할 수 있는데, 일단 다섯 사람이 탈 수 있지만 뒷좌석에 짐이 차 있고 조수석은 조수석대로 당장 필요한 자질구래한 소지품들이 쌓여 있기 때문에 사실상 그 차는 오직 그, 공상수 한 사람을 위한 차였다.


The Heart of Love and Respect

by Kim Keum Hee, Changbi, 2018

trans. Mah Eunji

경애의 마음, 김금희

창비, 2018

For publication inquires, please contact the publisher.



It's been twenty-five years since I last murdered someone, or has it been twenty-six? Anyway, it's about that long ago.

내가 마지막으로 사람을 죽인 것은 벌써 25년 전, 아니 26년 전인가, 하여튼 그쯤의 일이다.



Diary of a Murderer: And Other Stories

by Young-ha Kim. trans. Krys Lee

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019

살인자의 기억법, 김영하

문학동네, 2013



'Salmon: the very word is heady with the scent of the rushing river.'

연어, 라는 말 속에는 강물 냄새가 난다.



The Salmon Who Dared to Leap Higher

by Ahn Do-Hyeon, trans. Deborah Smith

Pan Books, 2015

연어, 안도현

문학동네, 2007



Moderator: Ms. Shim Siseon, only you have strongly objected to holding jesa or ancestral rites. Are you against the rites being held after your own death too?

진행자: 심시선씨, 유일하게 제사 문화에 강경한 반대 발언을 하고 계신데요. 본인 사후에도 그럼 제사를 거부하실 건가요?


From Siseon

by Chung Serang, Munhakdongne, 2020

시선으로부터, 정세랑

문학동네, 2020



Chunhui—which means Girl of Spring—was the name of the female brickmaker later celebrated as the Red Brick Queen when she was discovered by the architect of the grand theater.

훗날, 대극장을 설계한 건축가에 의해 처음 그 존재가 알려져 세상에 흔히 '붉은 벽돌의 여왕'으로 소개된 그 여자 벽돌공의 이름은 춘희이다.



by Cheon Myeong-kwan, trans. Chi-Young Kim

Archipelago Books, Forthcoming 2021

고래, 천명관

문학동네, 2004



I was my father's executioner.*

나는 내 아버지의 사형집행인이었다.


Seven Years of Darkness

by You-jeong Jeong, Eunhaengnamu, 2011

7년의 , 정유정

은행나무, 2011

* Please note that the first line in the published English version of the book (Seven Years of Darkness (Penguin Books, 2020)) is different from that in the Korean.—Ed.