Unspeakable Moments of Truth: The French Laundry by Jung Mikyung

  • onOctober 27, 2014
  • Vol.21 Autumn 2013
  • byCho Yeon-jung
The French Laundry

There are times when a writer succeeds at accurately describing the seemingly impenetrable solidity of everyday life and the destructive forces that nibble at the cracks of this solidity, threatening to blow the whole thing away.

Jung Mikyung has proven herself to be precisely such a writer in many of her previous works. Few writers have depicted the world of stark truth that is unmasked when the motions of everyday life are stripped away. The French Laundry is another masterful collection from Jung that explores beneath the surface of everyday life.

Stories like “The Life of Others,” for example, capture the instant when a perfectly ordinary life suddenly becomes an extraordinary one, not just to others but to the person in question. A 30-year-old man who has been leading a life of conventional success as a thoracic surgeon suddenly declares his intention to become a monk right before his wedding. His stunned fiancée learns that he has also been battling morphine addiction for many years. Even these reasons, however, do not seem enough for her to understand his drastic decision. Trying to maintain her calm, the woman asks why he wants to become a monk, to which the man replies, “Sometimes in life, people make decisions they can’t explain. It’s not that they don’t have a reason, but that they don’t have the words to explain that reason.”

Perhaps it is at this moment in life, when the idea that we have perfect control over our lives is but a fiction sinks in, that we truly begin to understand ourselves. To take this character’s idea further, it is even more remarkable that Jung Mikyung’s work gives us an accurate portrayal of such moments in life that supposedly cannot be described in words. 

Author's Profile

Jung Mikyung made her literary debut in 1987 as the winner in the drama category of the JoongAng New Writer’s Award, then went on hiatus before publishing a short story in the quarterly World Literature in 2001. She is the author of the short story collections Bloodstained LoverThey Gave Me Balkan RosesMy Son’s Girlfriend, and The French Laundry; the novels La Vie en RoseThe Strange Sorrow of Wonderland, and Stars of Africa. She is the winner of the 2006 Yi Sang Literary Award.