An Old Book About the Recent Past: The Man Who Was Left as Nine Pairs of Shoes by Yun Heunggil
- onNovember 9, 2014
- Vol.19 Spring 2013
- byMiguel Balaguer
- Nueve pares de zapatos (The Man Who Was Left as Nine Pairs of Shoes)
Tr. Byoung-son Song 2012190pp.
I started reading Korean literature about three years ago. Before that, I had never been exposed to works by Korean writers. The only Korean narratives that I had encountered was through a few Korean films. The first Korean book that I read was The Map: An Anthology of Short Stories in Korean Literature (Ji-do: antologia de la narrativa coreana contemporanea), a collaborative project between Argentine writer Oliverio Coelho and Professor Kim Un-kyung. By introducing short stories by various prominent writers, this anthology presents a rich panorama of the unique culture of Korean society. I was not only intrigued by the short stories in this book, but I also made an interesting discovery. Unlike general Asian literature that had been translated into Spanish in the past few years, Korean literary works deal with new themes and a different kind of agony. They focus on human conflicts that touch upon the deep-rooted political/social issues faced by a divided country. On the other hand, they can also be regarded as a truly imaginative literature, almost to the point of being evasive.
Oliverio Coelho later approached me with an idea on publishing a Korean literature series through Bajo la Luna, in which I hold the position of editorial director. He presented Spanish translations of several Korean books, and wanted us to explore new possibilities. This was the finishing touch to my overview of Korea and Korean literature. Interestingly enough, there were many similarities between literary works of the two countries.
One of my occupational habits is to compare books with those I have read in the past. The Man Who Was Left as Nine Pairs of Shoes by Yun Heunggil is a book that demonstrates similarities between Korean and Argentine literature. Outside of the names of characters, the book almost reads like an Argentine novel. It is written in a realistic tone that depicts Argentina in the latter half of the 20th century, a time during which the country suffered an economic and moral breakdown after being hit by the cruel forces of capitalism. The hardships of the protagonist Kwon in The Man Who Was Left as Nine Pairs of Shoes allowed me to reflect on how specific social conditions are molded by a dictatorship and blind rule over an individual’s economic power. There was nothing that could have prevented Kwon’s downfall, not even education, honesty, or morality. Like a line of dominos, Kwon came to a devastating end when the first piece tumbled, and the rest followed one after another. Having witnessed the Argentine economic crisis in 2001, I find it hard to believe that this book was written in 1977 as it provides such an accurate portrayal of my own experience 10 years ago.
Because I had taken so long to come across the book, I had a feeling that publishing it would be another hurdle. As I pondered over the similarities and differences, I realized that this kind of book had not yet been published in Argentina. In Argentine literature, writers have not been able to describe the decade-old crisis using the traditional approach of fiction, while poets have attempted in vain to articulate how the country had lost 10 years since the end of the 20th century. I now understand what makes the Korean book special and why it must be published.
*Miguel Balaguer was born in Rosario, Argentina, in 1970. He is the editorial director of Bajo la Luna, an independent publishing house based in Buenos Aires.
Yun Heunggil is a novelist and professor of creative writing at Hanseo University. His representative works include The Rainy Spell, Armband, and The Man Who Was Left as Nine Pairs of Shoes. He is the recipient of numerous awards (the Korean Literature Writers Award, the Korea Creative Literature Award, the Hyundae Literary Award, the 21st Century Literature Award, and the Daesan Literary Award), and his works have appeared in English, French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Chinese, and other languages.