In Search of Humanity: Gana by Jung Yong-jun

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.15 Spring 2012
  • byYi Soo-hyung

Jung Yong-jun is a young novelist whose first anthology of short fiction, Gana, contains nine recently published stories. All the stories in this collection delineate horrible experiences, and, at the same time, a certain effort on the part of the characters to overcome them. In effect, instead of a pitiful existence, the stories symbolize the absence of identity in modern society; accordingly the collection manifests itself as a kind of “naked life.”

In “Good Night, Oblo,” the writer’s debut story, a 550-kilogram woman resembles a monster that one is more likely to see in a movie; “The Wall” foregrounds characters who are imprisoned on a remote island and subjected to forced labor under inhumane conditions. Their lives are entrapped in a sub-human state and if culture and civilization are linguistic and symbolic byproducts of a language, then they are equally distanced from those entities, too. That is why the humongous monster from “Good Night, Oblo” has the beautiful name of “Rose,” which is far from her reality, and conversely, the prisoners in “The Wall,” are referred to by numbers like 9 or 21, instead of their names.

Other stories in the collection show characters whose lives may not be as wretched, but they are just as alienated from language, and thereby far from living a humane life as well. In “Stutter, Stutter, Stutter” and “The Aquarium in the Clouds” the protagonists stutter, while the wife of the main character in “Gana” is deaf. Will these characters, who are isolated from language and a civilized life, fail to go beyond their given state and end up being destroyed? As a matter of fact, the protagonist who stutters stops stuttering; and the already deceased character, who cannot go back to his hometown, delivers his message to his family by way of the wind. This moving scene is both romantic and poetic, and at the same time conveys a soulful sincerity.