Pain’s Relativity: Fire Salamander by Han Kang

  • onOctober 27, 2014
  • Vol.19 Spring 2013
  • byCho Kangsok
Fire Salamander

Han Kang’s work Fire Salamander is a collection of her published stories over the past 10 years. The collection is not so much about showing how the author’s sensibility and thoughts have developed over the last 10 years but how her subtle pathos takes over its space and plays out in a variety of ways.

Cold passion, characteristic of Han Kang, is felt in the short stories in this collection as well. What is interesting, however, is that over 10 years, her works do not take the dramatic course that goes from pain and despair to solace and affirmation. To reiterate, there is no connection in terms of development of story or emotions between the very first published work and the most recently published work. Instead, what seemed like a scar that would fade becomes even starker, and what seemed like a permanent scar in one moment disappears in another. The fact that there are no definite epiphanies or a turn towards healing is what makes this compilation unique. Therefore, Han Kang’s collection of short stories, spanning 10 years, is not a show of what develops internally over time but what unfolds over a spatial context.

Something else interesting about Fire Salamander is comparing whether it is an exercise in understanding the source of sensitivity or showing sensitivity as the cause. Without self-deception or denial, this thing called life, where things play out by themselves and where only Han Kang’s sensibility allows entryway, is put on display.

Should readers recognize only the absolute tempo of life or only the existence of the lives belonging to various individuals, then they will not understand the book’s message: the theory of relativity concerning pain. In order to handle suffering without self-deception or denial, the two entities of life need to work in conjunction with one another. Readers will see the labor of the author’s hand throughout the book as she writes about what stirs us. 

Author's Profile

Han Kang has received the Man Booker International Prize 2016, the Yi Sang Literary Award, Today’s Young Artist Award, and the Manhae Literature Prize. English translations of her books include The Vegetarian (Portobello, 2015), Human Acts (Portobello, 2016), and The White Book (Portobello, 2018).