At What Cost?: Into the World of Passi by Hwang Jung-eun

  • onOctober 26, 2014
  • Vol.16 Summer 2012
  • byJeong Young-hoon
Into the World of Passi

Hwang Jung-eun directs readers attention to the empty spaces between objects that exist but remain unnoticed, instead of the objects that occupy the space itself. In her first novel, Hwang used fantasy to make this possible, then in her new novel she actually writes about that which is not visible. For example, there is the vindictive spirit of Danny DeVito who even after he is dead, cannot forget his beloved and hovers around her.

The novel tells the story from the point of view of the protagonist-spirit, but the truth is that the woman is derived from a hallucination of the melancholy man unable to get over her. The author has the spirit provide the narrative rather than having the character tell a story about his impotent and lonely life. The spirit serves as an objective correlative that reveals his emotional state. The core point of Hwang’s current anthology of short stories is to represent what the eye cannot see in the form of a concrete entity.

Two seemingly different short stories can be read in the same way; that is, a clay vessel dug up in an unsightly manner from the earth in the “Story of an Earthen Vessel,” and a cat that repeatedly loses its life as a result of people’s cruelty in “Life of a Cat.” Both of them represent things people have had to sacrifice in order to live a more comfortable life, such as devastated nature, destroyed buildings, people who have been uprooted in the course of redevelopment projects, and the countless stories that are enmeshed in these phenomena; if readers feel somber after reading the stories, it is because they strike a chord about our own lives. It is also because it is clearly undeniable that the material happiness we have gained was in exchange for a loss of something else. Hwang’s novel makes concrete the discarded and forgotten world. It is aesthetically outstanding as well as effective in posing important questions. Among the questions she asks is, What is a good life? If a good life comes at a cost of someone else’s happiness then can that still be considered good? 

Author's Profile

Hwang Jungeun debuted in 2005 with “Mother,” which won the Kyunghyang Shinmun New Writer’s Award. She has authored the novels One Hundred Shadows, Savage Alice, and I’ll Go On, the short story collections Into the World of Passi, The Seven Thirty- Two Elephant Train, and Being Nobody. This year, she published the serial novel Didi’s Umbrella. Her books in translation include One Hundred Shadows (Tilted Axis, 2016), I’ll Go On (Tilted Axis, 2018), and “Kong’s Garden” (Strangers Press, 2019).