The Simplicity of the Flipped Palm: Nineteenth Century Korean Short Stories by Park Jong-shik, Kim Jae-guk, et al.

  • onMarch 28, 2017
  • Vol.35 Spring 2017
  • byAleksandr Alekseevich Yakovlev
Досужие беседы на постоялом дворе: КОРЕЙСКИЕ РАССКАЗЫ ΧΙΧ ВЕКА (Nineteenth Century Korean Short Stories: Leisurely Conversations at the Inn)
Tr. Dmitrij D. Eliseev

This gorgeously designed book features a foreword and footnotes by linguistics professor A. Trotsevich, which gives the publication an academic feel while also explaining to a more general readership some fundamental aspects of the book. Trotsevich conveys to the reader a sense of unity that connects the short stories without excessive literary or historical detail. There is an explanation for why it is unclear whether the author is Kim Jae-guk or the editor, in the epigraph that also acts as the last story of this book. The resulting circularity strengthens the book’s sense of structure.

The foreword explains why the authors of these stories are anonymous, what is included in nineteenth-century short story collections, and what motifs are prevalent therein. Trotsevich, from a functionalist perspective, lists and examines what comprises the syuzhet: the Chinese Emperor as a “test tube,” a talentless but merciful official who is rewarded for his good deeds, and a young woman ready to sacrifice everything for those she holds dear. Trotsevich also mentions the differences between nineteenth-century Korean short stories and Korea’s traditional literature. A new kind of protagonist emerges in these new stories, someone “concerned with real-life problems, such as how he was going to make a living or become an official.” Folksy, supernatural motifs had to give way.

The foreword absolutely, fairly, and objectively describes the book’s contents, accurately shows the characteristics of the short stories, and explains why and how the texts were selected for the anthology. Therefore, there cannot be any complaint about the selections, the foreword, or its remarkably compressed references. Its length is just right, and there is enough supporting material to understand each story.

What remains is to discuss the quality of the translation and its literary value. The translator never forgets he is dealing with folk literature, and manages to convey colloquialisms and idioms accurately such as “looked upon,” “What the hell has happened to you?” and “an unruly horse.” Similes are used liberally in Korean folk stories, and many of the translations sound fine in Russian: “There were many steep cliffs, which stood straight like piled cairns”; “He was so poor as to have not a single coin or handful of grain”; “This is as easy as flipping one’s palm”; and “Even ten plates of pearls must be beaded before being called a necklace” among others.

The translation by D. Eliseev is of the highest standards, enabling an artistic and psychological understanding of the original. Eliseev succeeds in conveying the characters’ and narrators’ thoughts and voices while creating vivid images through impeccably conveyed humor. 



by Aleksandr Alekseevich Yakovlev
Executive Secretary
Literaturnaya Ucheba Publishing House