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FICTION

What We Leave Behind: Life Unperturbed by Eun Heekyung

  • onOctober 26, 2014
  • Vol.17 Autumn 2012
  • byCho Yeon-jung
Life Unperturbed
2012
252pp.

Eun Heekyung’s Life Unperturbed tells the story of Joseph and Ryu. Twenty years ago, in a strange city called S, the two were passionately in love. Even after Ryu abandons Joseph without a word, Joseph cannot forget her and grows old as a bitter, middle-aged writer. The story juxtaposes Joseph’s life at the present, as a writer who is slowly losing the public’s attention and whose personal life is embroiled in scandal, and Ryu’s life in the past as a lonely girl growing up in a broken home.

The plot initially draws in the reader with the revenge drama of a pupil plotting to exact revenge on his mentor. Ian, Joseph’s old pupil, is a screenwriter who wants to cast Joseph in his film Writers in Crisis that reveals the hypocrisy of established writers through their personal lives. Although reluctant, Joseph decides to accept Ian’s offer, thinking he might be able to meet Ryu again for the first time in 10 years.

The revenge plot and the suspense of whether Joseph will be reunited with Ryu makes for a spectacular page-turner. What makes this work truly successful, however, is Joseph’s “take-no-prisoners” comment on the hypocrisy in our society, particularly of the literary circle, and his candidness in revealing even the basest details of his life. Coupled with Eun’s cynical yet driven style, readers will find something to mull over in every sentence.

Although the story first appears to be about the protagonist Joseph and his struggle with thwarted desire, it is the tragic tale of Ryu’s mother and her stoicism in the face of every kind of betrayal imaginable that stands out. Beginning with a description of the breathtaking beauty of a young woman who is on the phone with her lover, Life Unperturbed follows her downward spiral from bliss to aching loneliness. “They had already seen the most bewitching beauty possible; everything ever after would only remind them of their loss.” Life Unperturbed offers a bewitching portrait of this loss. 

Author's Profile

Eun Heekyung has won several literary awards such as the Munhakdongne Novel Award, the Yi Sang Literary Award, and the Dongin Literary Award. The French edition of My Wife’s Boxes (Les Boîtes de ma femme) was published by Zulma. Her works have appeared in German, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Japanese. She also participated in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.