Whispering Into the Night: Night Cello by Lee Eung Jun

  • onOctober 27, 2014
  • Vol.22 Winter 2013
  • byKang Yu-jung
Night Cello

Lee Eung Jun writes dark stories. Or rather, he used to write dark stories. For a while, however, for instance in The Private Life of the Nation or All About My Romance, he wrote in a lighter, or at least more accessible style.

Night Cello is a collection of short stories that breaks a long silence for Lee. The world that emerges in these deeply intimate stories is a throwback to a classic Lee Eung Jun darkness. Its characters listen to the sounds of the night cello. They live in the night, not the day, and their lives are governed not by lightness but by darkness. What shape does life take on for these characters, trapped deeply within a vortex of darkness? The pages of Night Cello are filled with this kind of inquiry, such as what darkness means in life or what makes people turn to God.

The thematic centerpiece of the book is the short story “Cherry Tree Grove.” All the stories in Night Cello go through or are connected to “Cherry Tree Grove” in some way. It is also symbolic that Cherry Tree Grove is the religious retreat of choice for terminal cancer patients. The range of characters and places in the collection is wide and varied, from an artist that paints only self-portraits to the dusty plains of Inner Mongolia. The characters meet and part fleetingly, like pieces of a puzzle.

According to the poet Heine, death is the great equalizer. While death may be equal, the vortex that leads towards death is pain. Lee says to us that writing fiction is like a confession that comes from gazing into the depths of this vortex. To Lee Eung Jun fiction is a kind of philosophy, a conviction. Night Cello is the kind of fiction that whispers solemn confessions about what fiction is into your ear. 

Author's Profile

Lee Eung Jun (b.1970) is a poet and novelist. He first published a poem in the quarterly journal Literature & Criticism in 1990, and debuted as a novelist in 1994 when his short story appeared in the quarterly magazine Imagination. His published works include the poetry collection The Trees Rejected the Forest; a short story collection titled My Girlfriend’s Funeral; the novels Private Life of the Nation and All About My Romance; and the serialized novel Night CelloLemon Tree is a 40-minute long film written and directed by Lee that screened at the New York Asian American International Film Festival and at the Paris International Short Film Festival in 2008.