Visit to Guadalajara International Book Fair

  • onNovember 14, 2014
  • Vol.15 Spring 2012
  • byPyun Hye-Young

When I look at the photos I take during my travels, I see that I am particularly attracted to walls. Photos from any given trip include those of the sun shining brightly on the wall painted in yellow; ivy spreading across the wall creating a strange pattern; different colored windows opening up for air; and mailboxes and water or electricity meters on walls.

The same was true in Guadalajara. I especially took a lot of wall photos at the high school where Kim Insuk and Kim Young-ha held their readings. For a while before the event began, I walked around the school during classes.

The scarlet wall that enclosed the courtyard, the shadows of trees and colorful flowers embroidered on the wall, and the warm sunrays were impressive. The teachers I met in the schoolyard were gentle and the children smiled at the stranger shyly while looking at her with curiosity.

The wall of the attached kindergarten was decorated with angel’s wings that children had made. Some had silver spangles while another looked soft and light with cotton. Things were written in pencil beneath the wings. Since I could not understand the language, I just guessed that they must be children’s wishes or hopes: what I want to be when I grow up, and so on. I hoped that the wishes written on the wall would come true under the warm light of the sun.

Children ran out into the courtyard during the break. Some sat down together and began to read the KLTI booklet with excerpts from authors participating in the book fair. I looked at the children for a long time. Four of them were sitting together. They were reading a booklet. The booklet contained Korean fiction. These three sentences felt like the most perfect ones to describe the moment. The sun was shining on the children’s heads, the light spreading long and diagonally on the wall behind them. It was cool in the shade and hot in the sun, but I gladly stood under the sun and looked, with a beating heart, at the children who were reading something written by Koreans for the first time in their lives.

When the bell rang again, they closed the brochures and went back to class. I saw them walking away and playing. One of them might remember the sentence he has just read forever, another might remember it for a short while. Most of them will soon forget due to indifference in their busy lives. However, that moment of life when they read that booklet will never disappear; the moment itself passes, but it will still mean something to them. These students don't have to learn about Korea, Korean literature, and Korean writers in that brief moment in time. But when they later come across the word Korea and meet Koreans in unfamiliar places, the memory of this moment at school will come back to them faintly and vaguely. I thought unclear, faint, and vague memories of such special moments belonged to the domain of fiction.

Ever since I became a novelist, I’ve come to like anyone who likes novels, who read novels, or who has dreamt of becoming a writer. However, my attraction to the Guadalajara International Book Fair was not just based on literary solidarity and similarity. Of course, Guadalajara was attractive enough with just that. But this city did not simply hold the book fair, make a news item based on books, and form a huge book market. It was also creating special moments of literature that were secret and personal for its citizens and students.

Literature can never change the physical form and nature of life. It can, however, change humans who make physical changes. Humans change and will continue to change slowly and ineffably whenever and wherever they stop to read the books written by those from faraway places. I saw such slow yet significant change in Guadalajara.


by Pyun Hye Young

Author's Profile

Pyun Hye-Young is an assistant professor of creative writing at Myongji University. She has received the Hyundae Literary Award, Yi Sang Literary Award, and Dongin Literary Award. The French edition of Aoi Garden (Dans l’antre d’Aoï Garden) was published by Decrescenzo éditeurs and Ashes and Red (Cendres et rouge) by Philippe Picquier. The Hole and Ashes and Red are forthcoming from Arcade Publishing in 2017.