Leaving One City in Search of Another: What Makes Up a City? by Park Seongwon

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.7 Spring 2010
  • byYi Soo-hyung
What Makes Up a City?

The eight short stories in What Makes Up a City? a collection of short stories by Park Seongwon, are remarkable in that they are a part of a serial novel, with titles ranging from “We Are Running, to Wonderland” and “To Ulan Bator in a Camping Car,” to “What Makes Up a City?” A serial novel, of course, are linked short stories that have common characters and themes, but the stories in this particular book are even more closely related to each other than most serial novels. In other words, the characters and themes in this novel are very consistent. Thus, a character in a story may closely resemble a character in another story, and the events that unfold through that character may seem similar in many aspects to events in another story.

What is this novel aiming at that unfolds with a consistency evoking deja vu?

In a word, irrationality—the irrationality that lurks in the lives of people in this modern age, the lives of people who live in civilized cities. For instance, the father of the protagonist in “To Ulan Bator in a Camping Car” spends his life dreaming of becoming “a person who breaks away from the mold,” then ends up going out into the country and opening a coffee shop named “Ulan Bator.” To the protagonist, of course, his father is simply insane. Is that indeed the case?

Upon hearing the news of his father’s death, the protagonist makes his way to “Ulan Bator,” the coffee shop, where he becomes entangled in a situation like that of being trapped in a Mongolian desert or steppe. There, reason and civilization, which had held life together in the city, has no effect whatsoever. Contrary to his beliefs, life in the city and life in the desert are not clearly distinguishable, and he comes to have no choice but to acknowledge that he had only believed that he had been tamed by civilization.

What makes up a city? The novel answers this question by stating that a city has something hidden inside, something that remains untamed by civilization. Through Park’s novel, we come to discover that although we may travel outside a city, the outside is actually the irrational that is hidden inside. 

Author's Profile

Park Seongwon was born in 1969 in Daegu. He debuted in 1994 with the short story "The Will" in Literature and Society. He is a professor of creative writing at Keimyung University. He is the recipient of the Today's Young Artists Award, the Hyundae Literary Award, the Hyundae Buddhist Literature Award, and the Han Moosuk Literary Award. He has published the short story collections Steal MeWe RunWhat Makes a City, and One Day.