[Mongolian] Fruits of Korean Fiction: Korean Short Stories and Novellas by Choe Jeong-hui
- onJune 11, 2020
- Vol.48 Summer 2020
- byAyurzana Gunaajav
- Солонгос өгүүллэг, тууж (Korean Short Stories and Novellas)
Tr. Amartaivan Myagmar 2019342pp.
Solongos oguulleg, tuuj (Korean Short Stories and Novellas), a collection of twelve short stories with diverse subject matters and styles, has been recently published in Mongolia.
Starting the book off with “Haunted House” by Choe Jeong-Hui gave me the expectation that the book would be full of short stories that were mysterious, harmonic, yet genuinely written as if naturally flowing out of the human mind and feelings. It is hard to believe that such poetic short stories were being written in 1930’s Korea. The protagonist’s delight upon finding a nice house with a reasonable rent price gets dimmed by some remarks that the house is haunted. She starts to see a ghost in her dreams and even begins to suspect the house is causing her illness. Plunging into the protagonist’s repressed mentality, the reader eventually believes that the house is indeed haunted. Most importantly, I was once again reminded through this story that people will always seek the cause of something in others and are somewhat ready to believe in superstition or irrational explanations at just the slightest turn of events.
However, I’m generally skeptical about the foreword commentary’s assertion that these are the “very best short stories of Korean literature.” The anthology includes some mediocre stories. Some others were rather journalistic, or somewhat artificially written.
But the real value of any anthology rests on the shoulders of just a few works. Those works remind us that quantity alone, in fact, is not everything.
From the middle of the book, with “The Road to Sampo” by Hwang Sok-yong, the reader begins to detect the aroma of genuine literature. Its characters are authentic; and its narrative development is humane and beautiful. This exquisite short story possesses every element of classical fiction. Hwang Sok-yong was born in 1943. Intriguingly, authors around the world who managed to completely remove themselves from the shadows or influences of the classics were born around this time onward.
Another work which should be praised is “Poor Man’s Wife” by Eun Heekyung. This is a great short story that depicts the pressures of social norms that we often tend to ignore in the obscurity of our daily life. Also, it reveals how social relations, which we consider important, can turn our attitude towards our private life into idiocy.
In general, good fiction is not always completely original. Literature is much more than something new. Combining familiar tones with completely new ways could be one of the key aspects of contemporary literature. That is why I kept reading “The Boozer” by Choi In-ho even though its tone reminded me of Raymond Carver. Also finding bits of Kafka in “The Fruit of My Woman” by Han Kang did not stop me from finishing it.
I learned that Han Kang and I are the same age and we were both born in November. Who knows, we might have even been born on the same day. That thought was the only thing that drove me with the subtle anticipation that I might reencounter something magical that I have seen before in my life but am still unsure about seeing from this world. I did not enjoy the story until I reached the last sentence. But after reading the last sentence, I immediately come to like the protagonist. She is someone who wants to trade her veins for tree stripes, and her blood for the juices of leaves. She is someone who understands that the most precious gift to give to her loved one is her experience that felt life has no meaning hence; she transforms herself into a tree and gives her fruit to her husband. Her husband does not realize or feel the value of life until the very last moment. When eating the fruit that has dropped from his wife’s body, he does not just chew and swallow them whole but saves up a handful to plant for next spring. I felt like I have never read a better story about love and loss.
There are people who do not tell the truth or who resent telling the truth. There are also people who believe that truth is something that should be left unsaid. But the truth always remains as the truth no matter what. The truth I have seen for this book is that the women writers are more powerful and more competent than the male authors in South Korea. Gong Ji-Young’s story has probably contributed to this viewpoint.