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Remembering Society’s Forgotten: The Last 4½ Seconds of My Life by Song Sokze

  • onNovember 9, 2014
  • Vol.8 Summer 2010
  • byGuenter Peperkorn
Die letzten viereinhalb Sekunden meines Lebens (The Last 4½ Seconds of My Life)
Tr. Inwon Park
2009
288pp.

Since modern Korean literature for years has been dominated by the theme of the Korean War, the division, and all the consequences for individuals, nowadays there are young writers of a new generation who are finding their very own subjects. We are grateful to translators for turning our attention to these writers.

One of them is Song Sokze, born 1960, who is known for his partly unreal, partly absurd stories, in which often minor figures of society are at the center of attention: there are drunkards and thugs, criminals, and swindlers. The stories in his recently published book Die letzten viereinhalb Sekunden meines Lebens (The Last 4½ Seconds of My Life) are very different in style and form, but what they have in common is an idée fixe of the protagonists. Hardly any of the stories has a happy ending, even if some of them are extremely burlesque and entertaining. Two stories show the cruel fate of women as a consequence of Korean history, which proves that even younger novelists cannot free themselves from the traumatic events of the 20th century.

The fascinating cover story is about a small town gangster and the last few seconds of his life after his car crashes through a parapet and falls from a bridge into a gorge. In that moment all the personal and especially criminal events of his life pass through his mind, beginning as a knife man and ending as a minor Mafia boss. All stations of his career are described in a dry manner (complete with footnotes; for example, regarding the laws of physics of such a fall, details about the construction of the bridge, or a digression about time units in Buddhism) and partly seem like a comic strip. It is fascinating how Song Sokze is able to reveal the life of this disagreeable person in less than 30 pages. This criminal was always proud to face the facts and accept the consequences, but in the very last second of his life he cries for his mother. 

Such a fall is the fate of nearly all the protagonists in the stories by Song Sokze. They cannot evade it, but what they can do is to keep their composure. This is at long last the heart of what Song tells in all his stories. 

 

 * Guenter Peperkorn is the CEO of Edition Peperkorn.

 

 

 

 

Author's Profile

Song Sokze is a poet and novelist. His short story collection The Amusing Life is set to be published by Dalkey Archive Press at the end of 2016. His works have been translated into English, Chinese, French, and German. He has received the Hyundae Literary Award, Dongin Literary Award, and Lee Hyo-seok Literary Award. His short story “The Man Who Writes Stories” was adapted into a Korean movie titled Dance with the Wind.