Miseries Turn into Memories: Unknown Women by Shin Kyung-sook

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.15 Spring 2012
  • byCho Yeon-jung
Unknown Women

Unknown Women is a collection of short stories written over the past eight years by novelist Shin Kyung-sook. This book contains seven stories that the author says she wrote “whenever she felt her heart was broken or shattered.” Perhaps this explains the characters in this collection who feel lonely and hurt because of broken relationships or their own miseries. The author brings her quiet, heartwarming compassion to the pages as if offering them comfort. Shin’s works in the past have expressed the details of everyday emotions in a beautiful style and have often comforted to readers who are weary of life. This collection is not an exception.

“Shoes at the Edge of the World” elegantly weaves a story of many characters centering around shoes as the motif. Shin uses bare feet and shoes to express the meaning of life, from the shoes of friendship worth dying for to the shoes symbolizing the yearning for a neighborhood friend, and the beautiful toe shoes for the deformed feet of a ballerina.

In addition to shoes, another noticeable motif in this story collection might be food. In “A Yard with Plant Pots,” the narrator is left too shell-shocked to eat or speak when her boyfriend suddenly announces that he is leaving her. But she gradually begins to confide her secrets over a meal to a woman she does not know. Similarly, in “Unknown Women,” the relationship between two women who used to write each other about everyday things in a shared notebook gradually develops to the point where they share their painful secrets exclusively with each other. Most of the entries in their notebook are about food.

About mistakes that anyone can make and miseries that can befall anyone, Shin’s book seems to be saying that there comes a time when one can say “I felt like I could feel memories instead of miseries.” The author is telling readers that just as the shoes we put on every day protect us, and the food we eat every day comforts us, we may be giving each other what the other needs and appreciates deeply, without even realizing it. 

Author's Profile

Shin Kyung-sook is a writer. Born in Jeongeub, North Jeolla Province in 1963. She made her literary debut in 1985 when her novella "A Winter Fable" won the Munye Joongang Literary Award for Best First Novel. She is the author of seven short story collections, including The Blind CalfThe Sound of BellsUnknown Women, and Moonlight Tales, and seven novels, including An Isolated RoomLee JinPlease Look After Mom, and I'll Be Right There. She has received a number of prestigious literary awards at home and abroad, including the Yi Sang Literary Award, the Dongin Prize, the Hyundae Munhak Award, Prix de l'Inapercu, and the Man Asian Literary Prize.