Where Is the Paradise We Dreamed Of?: Good-bye, Atlantis by Heo Su-gyeong

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.12 Summer 2011
  • byCho Yeon-jung
Good-bye, Atlantis

Heo Su-gyeong’s Good-bye, Atlantis is the story of a girl who dreams of paradise. Kyeongshil, daughter of a high-ranking civil servant in a wealthy family, is always lonely due to her father’s womanizing and her mother’s disinterest. Moreover, because she is overweight she becomes the target of jokes, and there is no one she can call a true friend. All she has for comfort in her hungry, lonely life are steamed buns from Uncle Mansu, and her diary. Chubby middle school student Kyeongshil becomes “Mimi,” “a name to forget her true self,” during the time she writes in her diary. When there is no one looking after her to show her any kind regard, where can a young girl turn to help her endure life?

Kyeongshil turns to writing letters in her diary and telling lies to her friends. She comes to share the same room with her older half-sister Jeong-woo, and at some point they turn to “storytelling.” The friends she makes for the first time in her life, at a reading club, each talk with her about the paradise they dream of so that they too forget about their unfortunate realities for a moment or so.

However, as she hears stories such as those of Misuk, the orphan who wants to be a nun, Yongshik, who wishes for his parents’ sake that his brother would be safely released after being arrested at a demonstration, and Youngmi, who dreams of a world without her physically abusive father, she realizes that her paradise and the paradise her friends so earnestly desire are categorically different. Whereas her friends are bound fast to an unhappy reality, describing worlds only slightly better than what now exists, the “Atlantis” she dreams of is nothing more than an unrealistic romantic fantasy. With this understanding, Kyeongshil comes of age.

This is the story of a lonely girl growing up in a small city in the 1970s, and it is also a vivid account of the growing pains Korean society underwent as a country developing under a dictatorship. All of us who have survived a miserable period believing that we will one day reach the paradise we dream of, where are we now?