Unlived Memories: Then What Shall We Sing? by Bak Solmay

  • onOctober 27, 2014
  • Vol.23 Spring 2014
  • byClaire Lee
Then What Shall We Sing?

None of us have memories of the time before we are born. Yet emerging Korean author Bak Solmay’s first collection of short stories, Then What Shall We Sing?, is a unique effort to remember those times, including a traumatic event which involves a massacre.

The collection is comprised of a total of seven stories, but its title story is arguably the most important. Bak was born in Gwangju in 1985, five years after the Gwangju Massacre took place in May 1980. The protagonist is essentially Bak’s stand-in; the young woman was born and raised in Gwangju, but didn’t witness the massacre of the approximately 200 pro-democracy demonstrators by former President Chun Doo-hwan’s military regime.

The story revolves around her encounters with non-Koreans in Berkeley, California and Kyoto, Japan, who are somehow aware of what happened in Gwangju in 1980. One of the people she meets is a woman named Hannah, whose mother is Korean and father is American. The other is a Japanese man in his 60s who runs a bar in Kyoto. 

Then What Shall We Sing? is one of the most unique literary approaches to the Gwangju Massacre to date, as well as a compelling tale of self-discovery and identity. Though she writes about her own hometown, Bak manages to explore a rather universal theme: the meaning of learning about the time before we were born–our history–however tragic and foreign it may be. 

Author's Profile

Bak Solmay made her literary debut when she won Jaeum & Moeum New Writer’s Award in 2009. She is the author of two volumes of fiction, Eul and I Would Like to Write About It All.