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The Fruit of My Woman by Han Kang

  • onApril 20, 2015
  • Vol.27 Spring 2015
  • byCao Qing
植物妻子 (The Fruit of My Woman)
Tr. Cui You Xue
2014
307pp.

Before the publication of the Chinese edition of the short story collection The Fruit of My Woman, Shanghai Literature & Art Publishing House released some titles of work by excellent contemporary Korean writers, not only well-known figures in the literary world such as Park Wan-suh, Park Bum-shin, Yun Dae-nyeong, and Sung Suk-je, but some talented young figures like Ha Seong-ran, Kim Ae-ran, and Yang Kwi-ja, as well.

Equally, we should have to mention Han Kang, one of the most promising among the new generation of writers. The Korea Literature Translation Institute has recommended some contemporary Korean literature work to the publishing house, and the high level and distinctive characteristics of The Fruit of My Woman aroused my attention, so I decided to introduce this work to readers.

Han Kang was born in the 1970s. As a young writer, she has already won several important prizes, including the Yi Sang Literary Award. Moreover, French master J.M.G. Le Clézio considered her the future winner of Nobel Prize in Literature. The Fruit of My Woman contains eight novellas and short stories written when she was in her 20s.

In Some Day is a fiery story. Its emotion and rhythm approaches climax gradually, filled with desire, pain, and laceration. By the ruinously beautiful end of the story, it almost appears as though the life of the protagonist has shifted imperceptibly, but this is really the result of the expert control of the writer. Han Kang deeply discusses the essence of love in this novella.

“Child Buddha” is one of my favorites in this collection. Two images paired together throughout the novel, the burning scars on the body of the heroine’s husband, and some Buddhist paintings, depict, with the help of an exquisite writing style, the spiritual connotation heightened awareness and rebirth. The novella has been made into a film. I watched the trailer and it looks like the language of the camera was under the influence of a director like Hong Sang-soo or Kim Ki-duk.

In “What Is the Emotion of the Dog in the Evening,” the titular dog is a kind of symbol, leading the child to witness painful changes in her mother. Because of this dog, she can feel the limitations of life. Through this story Han shows her superior talent of evoking compassion.

“Amidst Red Flowers” is one of the most powerful stories in the collection—dynamic and splendid. “Pitch-black sky and stars, the last quarter moon like frozen carrot pickles, ashen branch, pure white stone lights covered by snow without sign of melting. . .These images poured on her closed eyes, bringing her a chill.” The writing can easily be associated with Wandering Star by Le Clézio. With the interest of Zen Buddhism, the story is about a girl who became a nun, thereby probing into life and death and the meaning of mukti.

The title story explores hurt, desire, and relief from suffering. It is a daringly bizarre story about how a woman became a plant. Yet the description is well-balanced, without abruptness, discomfort, or horror. Instead, there is some unusual beauty. From Han’s delicate writing, we can see that the plant is a metaphor like the bohdi tree, which embodies the yearning for not only getting rid of carnal pain, but reaching nirvana as well.

“Nine Chapters” consists of nine independent but interrelated stories. Its structure is something like the miniature version of Ghostwritten by David Mitchell. The writing is very clean and soft like a breeze.

“White Flowers Floating” is the most realistic of the eight stories. Man in white, white hairpin, white butterfly—white is the keynote of the story. A depressive and austere atmosphere pervades the story.

“The River Running with the Railway” is structured along the intersection of first person and third person. Different elements are interlocked, indicating the inevitability of evil and degeneration. However, in this inescapable course, the gate of hope is not completely closed. The story is full of philosophy.

Inheriting the merits of French writers like Paul Verlaine, François Mauriac, Michel Tournier, and Le Clézio, in the course of the development of her signature style, Han wrote these mature stories very well. The collection is imbued with imaginative thinking, secularity and Zen, cold and warmth, and a deliberate abandonment of mystification. 

 

by Cao Qing
Editor
Shanghai Literature & Art Publishing House