Ways To Love This World: Moonlight Tales by Shin Kyung-sook

  • onOctober 27, 2014
  • Vol.20 Summer 2013
  • byJung Yeo-ul
Moonlight Tales

What do we associate with fiction? To some, it is a somber story; to others, it could be a moving tearjerker. It could also be a remarkable tale of great people, or everyday stories about ordinary folks. Although we each have differing ideas of what a novel is, it would not be farfetched to surmise that we all want a similar experience from reading a novel. That is, to be moved by a new experience of a world that we have not yet encountered—couldn’t that possibly be what we, as readers, are after?

In her new collection of short stories, Shin Kyung-sook provides that moving emotional encounter through the seemingly trite and ordinary. Her work thus far has been weighty, sincere, and serious. Her readers have kept hoping that she would write a book that was a little more humorous, fun, and lighthearted. In this new collection, Shin has revealed a humorous side that she has carefully guarded since her debut as a writer several decades ago. But this does not mean that Shin has discarded her usual writing style altogether. For she has retained her discreet gaze and cautious perspective of people and the world in this collection of down to earth stories that will bring a smile to those readers who are not accustomed to somber stories.

The author attests to the joy of the creative process in writing this collection: “There were times when I couldn’t stand being a human being whenever I read or heard about horrifying incidents in the newspapers or on TV. But I felt the opposite when I was working on Moonlight Tales. When I came across the luminous moments of people who live their lives, being faithful to who they are, I felt the joy of being human.”

In Moonlight Tales, there are 26 short stories that present portraits of many different kinds of people living in this era. For example, there is a Protestant minister who persistently asks a Buddhist monk to attend the Sunday service at his church that is in a small village; a person who muses over a lightning-fast cat that filches a magpie’s food; an aunt who tells the life story of Vincent van Gogh to her niece who wants to become an artist; and then there is the story of a childhood friend who confessed to have traded the lunch that her mom had packed with tender care for cheaply made cornbread, which was freely distributed at lunch during the poverty-stricken days of Korea; a daughter who had always responded to her mother’s telephone calls in a half-hearted manner, but calls her mother for the first time and chatters away about a TV drama in order to glimpse some deeper aspect of her mother; and a man who has a habit, whenever he gets drunk, of revisiting the old house where he used to live with his older brother.

The author describes these stories as “those I want to tell the moon,” or “tales that would make the moon grin,” if not “stories that the moon could relate to wholeheartedly.” If they could make the moon, high up in the sky late at night, grin happily, then they are bound to please readers. Shin defines the reader who is going to read this book in this manner: “You are the reader who has read the same heartbreaking book I once read.” Like the movie, Love Actually, the collection depicts all kinds of human relationships, and like Aesop's Fables it conveys a sharp lesson through allegory. The book is also a testimony to the author’s remarkable ability to create a beautiful story from ordinary occurrences. The artist Vincent van Gogh said, “The best way to realize God is to love many things,” which is the wisdom of life that we can obtain from this book. We, the readers, whom the author addresses as “Thou,” will have a heartwarming experience from these stories that shine like the moonlight that will lighten our hearts. 

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.