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외신에서 본 한국문학

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  • English

    2019-12-17

    The Watchlist: March 2016 N

    By M. Bartley SeigelEvery month, from the reviews desk to you, M. Bartley Seigel shares a handful of forthcoming titles he's excited about and thinks you should be excited about, too. From New Directions, A Little Lumpen Novelita by Roberto Bolaño, translated from the Spanish byNatasha Wimmer; ISBN 9780811225151; US$13.95. Says the publisher: "'Now I am a mother and a married woman, but not long ago I led a life of crime': so Bianca begins her tale of growing up the hard way in Rome. Orphaned overnight as a teenager—'our parents died in a car crash on their first vacation without us'—she drops out of school, gets a crappy job, and drifts into bad company. Her younger brother brings home two petty criminals who need a place to stay. As the four of them share the family apartment and plot a strange crime, Bianca learns how low she can fall. Electric and tense with foreboding, A Little Lumpen Novelita—the last novel Roberto Bolaño published in his lifetime—delivers a surprising, fractured tale of taking control of one’s fate."Says NPR: "A Little Lumpen Novelita, while short, is among Bolaño's most intoxicating works. Obsessive and ambiguous, its open-ended nature is reflective not only of the protagonist but of the author himself. And it further cements him as a master of the form, of any form." From East Slope Publishing Ltd. by way of Columbia University Press, The Kite Family by Hon Lai-chu, translated from the Chinese by Andrea Lingenfelter; ISBN 9789881604798; US$18.00.Says the publisher: "A patient escapes from an asylum, to spend his life as the perfect mannequin in a department store display; when living alone is outlawed, a woman who resides quietly with her cat is assigned by bureaucrats to a role in an artificially created 'family;' a luckless man transforms himself into a chair so people can, literally, sit on him. These are just a few of the inhabitants of Hon Lai-chu's stories, where surreal characters struggle to carve out space for freedom and individuality in an absurd world. The Chinese version of The Kite Family won the New Writer's Novella first prize from Taiwan's Unitas Literary Association, was one of 2008's Books of the Year according to Taiwan's China Times, was selected as one of the Top 10 Chinese Novels Worldwide, and was awarded a Translation Grant from the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts." Says Asian Review of Books: "A collection of short fiction with a heavy dose of surrealism...Kafka seems much in evidence. Absurd and satirical...the stories communicate less by plot or characterization than by atmosphere, one that is on the whole insalubrious and oppressive. There is much that is dystopian; the result is usually disturbing."    From Phoneme Media, Baho! by Roland Rugero, translated from the French by Chris Schaefer; ISBN 9781939419620; US$16.00.Says the publisher: "In Baho!, the first Burundian novel ever translated into English, the 28-year-old Roland Rugero uses elements of fable and oral tradition to explore the themes of miscommunication and justice in his war-torn Central African nation. When Nyamugari, an adolescent mute, attempts to ask a young woman in rural Burundi for directions to an appropriate place to relieve himself, his gestures are mistaken as premeditation for rape. To the young woman's community, his fleeing confirms his guilt, setting off a chain reaction of pursuit, mob justice, and Nyamugari's attempts at explanation."Says Lithub lists: Look here or here. No reviews yet, though. Still, let's face it, Phoneme Media is sexy as __________ and you can read an excerpt right here at Words without Borders, published last July in our special section "Burundi: Writing from the State of Sleep," and decide for yourself.  From Yale University Press's series Margellos World Republic of Letters, Graveyard Clay by Máirtín Ó Cadhain, translated from the Irish by Liam Mac Con Iomaire and Tim Robinson; ISBN 9780300203769; US$25.00.Says the publisher: "In critical opinion and popular polls, Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Graveyard Clay is invariably ranked the most important prose work in modern Irish...a novel of black humor, reminiscent of the work of Synge and Beckett. The story unfolds entirely in dialogue as the newly dead arrive in the graveyard, bringing news of recent local happenings to those already confined in their coffins. Avalanches of gossip, backbiting, flirting, feuds, and scandal-mongering ensue, while the absurdity of human nature becomes ever clearer. This edition of Ó Cadhain’s masterpiece is enriched with footnotes, bibliography, publication and reception history, and other materials that invite further study and deeper enjoyment of his most engaging and challenging work."Says the Irish Times: "Ireland will have heard of it. It has been flagged as the greatest Irish novel, just as Ulysses is recognised as the greatest Anglo-Irish novel. These positions are not incontrovertible, but it would take a lot of argumentation and some prejudice to dislodge them. League-table renderings of merit in literature are always crass and stupid, but it is unlikely that both Cré na Cille and Ulysses would not figure in any list that any bilingual Irish person would read."  Words Without Borders reviewed Yale University Press's original translation of Cré na Cille (published as Dirty Dust and translated by Alan Titley). From Bloodaxe Books, Centres of Cataclysm: Celebrating 50 Years of Modern Poetry in Translation, edited by Sasha Dugdale, David Constantine, and Helen Constantine; ISBN 9781780372648; £15.00. Says the publisher: "Centres of Cataclysm covers the fifty-year history of Modern Poetry in Translation, one of the UK's most innovative and prestigious poetry magazines. Founded in 1965 by Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort, MPT has published some of the first translations of the twentieth century's most significant poets, among them Zbigniew Herbert, Yehuda Amichai, Marina Tsvetaeva and Miroslav Holub. MPT was intended, in Ted Hughes's words, as an 'airport for incoming translations,' so they might find more permanent residence in English-language poetry. This celebratory and inspiring anthology includes excellent and various poems from the MPT archive together with responses to those poems by English-language poets and writers. Included here also are letters concerning the magazine's history as well as short essays on the art of translating poetry.Says me because of course no one is talking about this book, not yet, because it's poetry, and worse, it's poetry in translation. But take my word for it, this is an important anthology for what should be obvious reasons, and since you're reading this watchlist in the first place, I probably needn't say more. If you're anywhere near Kings College London in May, go to here.    From Black Ocean, I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju, translated from the Korean by Jake Levine; ISBN 9781939568144; US$14.95.Says the publisher: "Kim Kyung Ju’s poetry operates in a world where no one seems to belong: 'the living are born in the dead people’s world, and the dead are born in the living.' Already in its thirtieth edition in Korea, I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World is one of the most important books in the movement Korean critics have called Miraepa or future movement. Destructive forces like social isolation, disease, and ecological degradation are transformed into gateways to the sublime—where human action takes on the mythic and chaotic quality of nature. Conflating human agency with the natural order, Kim’s poems have been called by critics both a blessing and a curse to Korean literature. This book will be a startling English-language debut for one of the best-known poets writing in Korean today."Says Asymptote Journal, where you can read two excerpted poems and listen to the author read them in Korean.    From Guernica Editions, A Still Life: Selected Poems (1960-2010) by Bernlef, translated from the Dutch by Scott Rollins; ISBN 9781771831086; US$20.00. Says the publisher: "His poems make you forget what poetry is. Bernlef's secret is in the way he looks at things. His attention to the ordinary, to the marginal, the so-called extra literary has not only enlarged the realm of the poetic but challenges the hierarchies and preconceived notions about what is or is not considered literary."Says Bernlef himself: "I embrace the words like smoke light and carefree not because I love them but because they're in my way and no avoiding it. With my nose pressed against a word the typesetting comes loose and I get entangled in the moustaches and beards of words." From Archipelago Books, Something Will Happen, You’ll See by Christos Ikonomou, translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich; ISBN 9780914671350; US$16.00Says the publisher: "Something Will Happen, You’ll See is a heart-wrenching elegy on the impoverished working-class Greeks populating the neighborhoods around Piraeus, the large port southwest of Athens. Ikonomou’s luminous and poignant short stories center around laid-off steelworkers, warehousemen, families, pensioners, and young couples faced with sudden loss and turmoil. Between docks, in tenement buildings, and on city streets Ikonomou’s men and women sustain their traumas on flickers of hope in the darkness and on their deep faith in humanity. An illuminating examination of the human condition, Ikonomou’s award-winning book has become the literary emblem of the Greek crisis; stories so real, humane, and haunting that they will stay with the reader long after the final page."Says The Nation: "A gripping collection of short stories... In Ikonomou’s concrete streets, the rain is always looming, the politicians’ slogans are ignored, and the police remain a violent, threatening presence offstage. Yet even at the edge of destitution, his men and women act for themselves, trying to preserve what little solidarity remains in a deeply atomized society, and in one way or another finding their own voice. There is faith here, deep faith—though little or none in those who habitually ask for it."Read an excerpt of Something Will Happen, You'll See on Words Without Borders.Published Mar 2, 2016   Copyright 2016 M. Bartley SeigelReturn to WWB DailyLeave Your Comment /* * * CONFIGURATION VARIABLES: EDIT BEFORE PASTING INTO YOUR WEBPAGE * * */ var disqus_shortname = 'wwborders'; // required: replace example with your forum shortname /* * * DON'T EDIT BELOW THIS LINE * * */ (function() { var dsq = document.createElement('script'); dsq.type = 'text/javascript'; dsq.async = true; dsq.src = '//' + disqus_shortname + '.disqus.com/embed.js'; (document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0] || document.getElementsByTagName('body')[0]).appendChild(dsq); })(); Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.comments powered by Disqus
  • English

    2019-12-17

    LGBT Korea on Film: Anonymity and Representation N

    By Sora Kim RussellIn recent years, gay male characters have been featured in South Korean television and cinema—and even in a commercial or two. Movies like The King and The Clown and A Frozen Flower and the television shows Coffee Prince and Life is Beautiful have proven popular with audiences, even as the social reality has been slow to catch up. In 2009, the independent film Just Friends, directed by Kim Joh Kwang-soo, who is openly gay, made it past the film festival barrier and was released in theaters.  But while some progress has been made in terms of mainstream representations of gay men in South Korea, there has not yet been a similar leap where mainstream representations of lesbians are concerned.This is not for lack of options. A growing number of female directors have been producing short films and documentaries addressing lesbian life in Korea. But these films have mostly traveled the film festival circuit, while lesbian characters and storylines have not yet cropped up in a significant way in mainstream media.There was a sense that this year might have been a turning point. Ashamed, a feature-length film by Kim Soo-hyun, a male director, about two women who inadvertently begin a romantic relationship, was screened at the prestigious Busan International Film Festival and the Berlin International Film Festival in 2010 before being prominently showcased at the Seoul LGBT Film Festival in 2011. The initial hype surrounding the film suggested that it might make it into mainstream theaters, but ultimately, the film was panned by critics both inside and outside of Korea.This film was not the first instance of lesbianism being portrayed in works by heterosexual writers or directors. Lesbian characters—or more precisely, sexual encounters between women—have popped up in a number of movies, and there are also examples of such encounters in Korean literature. But they differ from lesbian-authored works in that they tend to be limited to sexual depictions and do not necessarily include any consideration of what lesbianism as an identity means in the Korean context or what queer Korean women themselves consider to be important.Compared to the few mainstream portrayals of Korean lesbians, the short independent films that have been coming out of South Korea’s film festivals—including the International Women’s Film Festival in Seoul, the Seoul LGBT Film Festival, and the Seoul Human Rights Film Festival—generally take a more creative and authentic approach to the topic. The films at this year’s Seoul LGBT Film Festival included Kyung Ji-Suk’s Chupachups, in which a woman visits a childhood friend to give her a wedding invitation and confess her long-held love; Jang Jin-ho’s Someday, a reverse narrative about two women who fall in love, move in together, and decide to start a family; and Unzery’s Oh! Wonderful Korea! about a relationship between a prostitute and a female migrant worker.Previous years’ films have included Bae Su-kyong’s Keep Walking, in which two women explore the challenges of living together and the need for lesbian community, and the groundbreaking documentary Out: Smashing Homophobia Project, which was particularly notable in that it featured three high school-aged girls talking about their lives as queer teenagers in South Korea.In literature, a small number of pulp fiction titles have been published by Haeul, South Korea’s first and only LGBT publishing company, and short fiction is also produced and published online by writers working anonymously and presumably for no pay. The Internet has been a watershed for the queer community, as South Korea’s fast and ubiquitous Internet access has enabled people to communicate and organize anonymously online.But the anonymity that enables this work may also be a barrier to gaining mainstream attention. Some of the lesbian directors who have participated in film festivals submitted their work under pseudonyms, and Haeul’s lesbian titles are likewise published under pen names. In the blogosphere as well, and even in face-to-face contact, many Korean lesbians choose to conceal their real names.For while the Internet has sped up community organizing, it has also proven to be one of the chief sources of bullying. When public figures have come out in Korea, the reaction has tended to be swift and brutal. In 2008, the actor Kim Ji-hoo outed himself on television. Immediately after, his Web site was flooded with hate speech, and several months later, he committed suicide.Furthermore, online anonymity is not complete. In order to use most South Korean websites, netizens are required to register via a real-name system. Purportedly installed to reduce cybercrime, the system has at times been more of a deterrent to those with a true need for anonymity. Censorship, as well, has been an issue, following the passage of the Internet Content Filtering Ordinance in 2001, which can block access to websites deemed to be “harmful to youth.” When the film Just Friends was first released, the Korea Media Rating Board gave it an “18+” rating to prevent teenagers from watching it, despite the young age of the characters, citing “risk of imitation.”Given the real-name system and government censorship, as well as the no-holds-barred nature of online bullying, it is perhaps unsurprising that so many in the queer community insist on anonymity, even while actively pursuing the production of queer culture on and offline.For now, gays and lesbians in South Korea live and work under a dual system: privately out of and publicly in the closet. But there is nevertheless a growing sense that change is underway. Five or six years ago, most of the marchers in Seoul’s LGBT Pride Parade wore masks and sunglasses to hide their faces. This year, not a single marcher was masked.One of the films in this year’s LGBT film festival seemed to express this feeling best in its title: Someday. The film opens on a parent-teacher meeting in an elementary school. The child’s mother has been summoned to discuss the fact that her child incorrectly answered a question on a personality test that asked, “True or false: I was born to two women.” The child answered “true” and refused the teacher’s attempts to correct her. While the teacher is berating the child’s mother, the “other mother” quietly enters and takes a seat. The teacher looks up and is left speechless.In the silence of that moment, the film seems to offer a vision of a possible future and a succinct statement in response to the question of where South Korea stands vis-à-vis its queer female citizens and what the possibilities are for this vibrant and strengthening community.Published Jun 20, 2011   Copyright 2011 Sora Kim RussellReturn to WWB DailyLeave Your Comment /* * * CONFIGURATION VARIABLES: EDIT BEFORE PASTING INTO YOUR WEBPAGE * * */ var disqus_shortname = 'wwborders'; // required: replace example with your forum shortname /* * * DON'T EDIT BELOW THIS LINE * * */ (function() { var dsq = document.createElement('script'); dsq.type = 'text/javascript'; dsq.async = true; dsq.src = '//' + disqus_shortname + '.disqus.com/embed.js'; (document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0] || document.getElementsByTagName('body')[0]).appendChild(dsq); })(); Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.comments powered by Disqus
  • English

    2019-12-12

    The Poet Who Asked for Forgiveness N

    At its essence, the purpose of North Korean literature is to praise the Korean Workers’ Party. While South Korean poetry deals with topics such as love or life, North Korean poetry refers only to Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un, constantly reinventing itself as a mechanism of hymnal thought-control. In North Korea, whatever literary genius poets may possess, ignoring Party ideology in their work is a certain path to being mentally or physically broken by the state. This was the case of North Korean poet Kim Chul.In the early 1960s, Kim Chul was one of the foremost poets in North Korea. He was renowned for his lyric poetry and wrote often about love. The people even dubbed him "the Pushkin of Korea." But no matter how beautiful, his poems could not be published unless they promoted Party ideology. One such poem, "A Military Jacket Button," depicts a soldier returning home after the Korean War. He takes in his arms a motherless baby. The baby wakes up and sucks on a button on the soldier’s military uniform, mistaking it for his mother’s nipple. It is a poignant elegy about the misery of the Korean War.Wearing a military jacket stained with gunsmokeThe soldier holds the sleeping baby in his armsThe baby awakes, caresses his mother’s breastAnd sucks on the button of a military jacket.Ah!May this soldier become his mother.Kim Chul seized poetic opportunities, wrote succinctly, and had strong control over tone; many considered him the nation’s leading poet. Yet because his poetry did not exalt Party ideology, his life could only end in tragedy. He was banished into obscurity by the North Korean state for the crime of writing according to an "artistic," instead of "political," sensibility. His pursuit of art offended the North Korean state. *In North Korea, July 27, 1953 is remembered not as a day of armistice, but rather, as the "day of victory." The state dictates that all art must base itself on the joy of victory; the heroism of the Korean people for having expelled the forces of American imperialism from their lands must be the "voice" with which every artist speaks.As is evident in "A Military Jacket Button," Kim Chul’s poetry contained none of that "joy of victory." His works reflect instead the darkness brought on by the Korean War. Through the image of the baby sucking on a soldier’s military jacket button—thinking it is its mother’s nipple—Kim Chul depicts the Koreans as a war-weary people, and the Korean War as a tragedy for the nation. The work was considered seditious in its realism, and banned.To make matters worse, Kim Chul’s relationship with a Russian woman was frowned upon by the state. The Workers’ Party issued an order for their divorce, but Kim Chul refused to comply. He was forced by the authorities to make a choice: give up his Party membership, or separate from the woman. Kim Chul said that if this kind of oppression was what the Party represented, he would rather give up his membership. He was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in hard labor and was sent to a mine with his young son. According to the system of guilt by association, families of "criminals" in North Korea are also punished.The Russian woman, forcibly separated from Kim Chul, returned to her home country. Kim Chul continued to work in the mines. As he watched his son grow to adulthood, Kim Chul fell into a depression. He began to feel guilty; his senseless stubbornness had resulted in his son’s lifelong suffering.Day after day, as he watched his son work all day in the mines and come home exhausted and unable to eat, Kim Chul began to feel that life meant nothing unless one yielded to the needs of the Party. He came to accept that art had no value unless it was used as a tool of propaganda.He wrote a letter of apology to the Party asking to be absolved of his past mistakes. He pleaded with his successors in the publishing section to give him a chance and publish the apology. They were sympathetic, but had to refuse; it was just not possible to publish something written by a poet whose life and work had been erased from the history of North Korean literature.Kim Chul was devastated. Eventually, he composed a lyric poem expressing deep regret for his past actions titled "Forgive Me": Forgive me, MotherI complained about the clothes you made meI hurt you to the coreForgive me, MotherForgive me, TeacherI did not complete my chemistry assignmentI did not learn my log tablesI hurt you to the coreForgive me, TeacherDo not forgive me, my homelandIf, in the decisive moment of battleI stop to consider my lifeAnd the enemy’s bullet destined for meRips through my comradeDo not forgive meI am your sonI will be brave in battleIf, leading the charge with our standard, I fallNever to rise againDo not forget me, my homelandForgive meIn his apology to the party, Kim Chul likens himself to a child who has misbehaved; yet ultimately, he is prepared to sacrifice himself for his homeland, which should therefore forgive him.Kim Jong-il accepted Kim Chul’s poetic apology and ordered that he and his family be recalled to Pyongyang. He presented them with a luxury apartment in a forty-story building in the Ryugyong-dong, Botong-gang area. In addition, Kim Jong-il enrolled Kim Chul’s children in the school of literature at Kim Il-sung University—they were to follow in their father’s footsteps and learn to sing eternal praises to the Party. Kim Chul shed many grateful tears for Kim Jong-il’s magnanimity.He expressed his thanks in the poem "Mother." This Korean Workers’ Party hymn depicts the Party as the birth mother of the speaker. All North Koreans are required to learn this hymn by heart.Now, I haveFully grown childrenAnd white hair over my earsYet I call your name in a child’s voiceMother, I have you, Mother.You are my mother when I am happyYou are my mother when I am grievingWhether you call me affectionately or tell me off, I run into your armsAsk you about a thousand thingsTell you all my mistakes, even ones I might have forgottenI cannot live without my mother!If I let go, I might lose youIf I leave your side, I might lose youEven while asleep, I fumble for youAnd your dear gaze rests on my face all nightAnd your soft touch strokes my headInto the morningYou, Mother, are you reallyThe one who gave me birth and milk?I raise my eyes, softlyLooking up at her face againI see that I was wrongShe is not my mother aloneBut Mother to all the sons and daughters in this landRaising them as upright revolutionariesThis wonderful mother glances down at meAs she gazes over the earthAll kinds of flowers bloom on desolate landsAnd her great hands, when they point to the heavensI hug the four hooves of the legendary ChollimaAh!How could I have addressed this motherIn my child’s voice?How could the vast embrace of this motherHave cared even for my small cradle?I am sorryTo have compared this mother to a womanWho could not even provide milk for meA woman of the countrysideShould not have been placed alongside MotherBut what was I to do?O Party, O Korean Workers’ Party!I was never taught a more suitable name to call you byThan "Mother"If one warrior falls behind on this road of holy warShe runs a thousand, nay, ten thousand milesHelping him get back into line, wrapping him up in the red flagShe is the mother of revolution, the eternal embrace of lifeIn the million years of mankind’s historyA billion mothersAwaited this morning in prayerWhich with your foresight and integrityAnd your invincible guidanceHas dawned brilliantly upon this landHow could we in our childish wayHave looked into the depth of yourunderstanding eyesO Workers’ Party!O Mother!Your wise gazeYour mature and commanding visionScans those faraway hills of the futureAnd there I will walkI will give everythingI will not hesitateIf I could shine one more ray of lightOnto your dignified and solemn countenanceI would become a hot coalAnd fuel a power plantIf your endless benevolenceWill turn green those furrowsI shall become a handful of fertilizerAnd fatten a stalk of rice.What more could I want? ***O Workers’ Party!O Korean Workers’ Party!Even after being scattered to the heavens or buried under earthI will return into your embraceAs your sonIn your affectionate gazeIn your soft touch, I will entrust my bodyForever and everIn my child’s voiceI will call out your nameMother, Mother, without youI cannot live!We can see through this poem how individual human relationships become part of an ideological construct dominated by the presence of the Party.By conflating a term that describes the most intimate and tender human relationship with the identity of the Korean Workers’ Party, the political effect is maximized. This Party hymn is a testament to the extent to which poetic talent is constrained to serve the will of the state in North Korea.North Korean poets serve the Party with the art of poetry, novelists with the novel. Reader, please note that the concepts of "free will," or "coercion," are not adequate for an understanding of why North Korean artists serve the state. They are not merely forced to serve the party: they are forced to desire that servitude. They extol the Party because this is the only way to stay alive.© Gwak Moon-an. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2013 by Shirley Lee. All rights reserved.Read more from the May 2013 issueFurther ReadingPillowThe Wretched of UhuruA Blackened Land
  • English

    2019-12-05

    An Interview with Sang Young Park N

    By Anton HurSang Young ParkThe title story of Sang Young Park’s debut collection, Tears of an Unknown Artist, or Zaytun Pasta (Munhakdongne, 2018), is serialized in Words Without Borders in Anton Hur’s translation.  Sang Young Park, now in his early thirties, was born in Daegu, a city in southeastern Korea, where redevelopment has rendered his childhood neighborhood completely unrecognizable. He attended college and graduate school in Seoul, where he earned degrees in French, journalism, and creative writing, and where he worked in various day jobs before recently quitting to write full time and teach at the Seoul Institute of the Arts.In person, Park is solid, bright, and handsome, and he speaks without a trace of a Daegu accent (his mother is from Seoul). Unusually for a Korean man, he also sports a beard. We met a few times to discuss his work but I got so carried away by our conversation that I forgot to record an interview. Consequently, the following interview was conducted over email. Anton Hur (AH): So how did you get the idea to write a story about a Korean gay romance and friendship set in Iraq during the war?Sang Young Park (SYP): The Zaytun Division and Korea’s participation in the Iraq War was something I always had in my arsenal to write about. There’s a complicated story behind it that I’m sure not everyone is interested in—feel free to scroll!I lived in New York City for a year in 2007 and happened to go by Ground Zero one day. I hadn’t planned to go there—I was actually on my way to a nearby Century 21 outlet to buy a bag. The whole block was under construction and it was all steel fences and detour signs. I wasn’t paying much attention because my energy was concentrated on shopping and I was going up the steel-grate steps toward retail glory.At the top of the flight, which was almost two stories tall, I saw a huge and very deep pit over the construction fence below. There was also a sign there, standing like a monument, proclaiming this was Ground Zero. It felt weird to see such a sign amidst my determination to buy some bag at an off-season discount. I couldn’t stay there long, because you had to make it in early for the good stuff, but I felt like a pit had formed in the back of my mind. I thought, I would like to write about that pit someday.The second inspiration for this story had to do with an art piece. Like other pretentiously artsy young people, I love going to art galleries. I never miss a Seoul Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art exhibition on the annual Today’s Artists Award. At the 2015 edition, I was watching Oh Inhwan’s “Looking for the Blind Spot” installation with particular interest. The screens on the wall were showing interviews with military conscripts who had looked for blind spots around their postings where they could masturbate. I was obviously watching this with great concentration when a familiar face appeared on the screen, an upperclassman I knew but hadn’t kept in contact with. Normally he was a man of frustratingly few words, but his slow and monotonous voice in the video was actually very evocative of the desert in Iraq where he had served. I didn’t have much of a choice—I called him up and we had pork bossam wraps at a place near Anguk Station and I got him to talk about the Zaytun Division, Korea’s troop deployment in Iraq during the war. He gave me precious firsthand content on Erbil and a subdivision in charge of drawing murals for public spaces. I kept thinking, this is so great, this would make good fiction, and I jotted down notes with his permission. I bought the bossam that day.Since I had invested time, effort, and money in the story, I thought that I would write it as a full-length novel, once I developed better chops as a novelist. But I ended up writing this short story in 2017, my debut year as a novelist, because of the Captain A Incident (a witch hunt of gay conscripts carried out by a homophobic officer).In all the noise of the controversy surrounding the Incident, I began thinking that I needed my own interpretation of the event. And so, two springs ago, I decided I should write about two men who end up fooling around in the middle of a war zone. I didn’t have as much time as I thought I would to prepare, so I ended up rushing through it. The commission I had received from a magazine was also for a short story, not a novella, which is what the story became. I think I just had too much accumulated inside me and I had to let it all out, which then made me pressed for time. I couldn’t see where the story was going, which made me suffer the whole time I was writing it. Even now, after it’s been published and the reviews have been good, I still think of it with shame and despair because I did not take “Zaytun Pasta” as far as I’d hoped it could go.I guess it’s not that obvious how my story connects to the Captain A Incident. But still, when I read it now, I’m reminded of how I felt I needed to work this out for myself more than anyone else. Because that was how I felt after I finished. I’m really grateful to this story. AH: As a translator, I’m always curious about how writers develop their style. Your usage of postpositions is very precise and leaves no room for foggy ambiguity, and while translating it I kept thinking that you have a very Anglo-Saxon sense of prose. How did you develop your style? What books, education, and epiphanies went into it?SYP: My favorite writers as a kid were Agatha Christie and J. K. Rowling. I’ve read all of the approximately eighty Agatha Christie books that have been translated into Korean. I used to collect them when I was in elementary school. I also spent my teenage years with Harry Potter. You could say those two authors were my literary foundation growing up.If I were to think about it more, maybe I had an Anglo-Saxonish education. My mom was a teacher and she had me read Disney books in English as a child—My favorite was a warm fairy tale entitled Button Soup—and I learned alphabet phonics along with Korean hangul. We had all the Disney movies at home and I watched one every day, Peter Pan the most. My dad loved English pop songs so I grew up listening to Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, and Sarah Brightman more than any Korean artist. In high school I was in the English theater club and wrote plays. I was active in extracurriculars, unlike most kids who were more focused on the college entrance exams, and I was into things like studying the French baccalaureate philosophy questions and generally having a well-rounded high school experience that, compared to most Korean kids, was closer to the model they have in the States or the UK, which trained me in terms of critical thinking.In terms of prose style, I wasn’t really conscious of influences from English literature. Someone did comment during a workshop that my style reminded them of Chuck Palahniuk or David Sedaris, and so when I read their work, I thought, Perhaps they had a similar sentiment and perspective as I did? It could just be my own ego talking. Korean literature tends to allow you to take a lot of poetic license and to use a loose and ambiguous sentence style that stands in for emotional expression, whereas I tend to go for a logically coherent, direct, and concise style. Maybe that reads a bit Anglo-Saxon. I like to capture the most detailed emotions that others may easily overlook, insignificant things that I might feel in very ordinary moments.AH: Could you describe your creative process? How do you choose your material, get inspired, and do the writing?SYP: I jot down notes about funny scenes or hilarious stuff my friends say in real life. I have a lot of weird friends whose heads aren’t quite screwed on right. They’re terrible drinkers and even worse at life. And they’re my muses. Once I have enough incidents and one-liners, I can set up an outline and begin writing. Sometimes it’s social issues or the news that inspires me. The spark is different for every story. “Zaytun Pasta,” as you’ve seen, took a few different sparks.The process itself is very simple. I get commissioned by a literary magazine to write a story, I select an episode from my notes that seems right for the amount of manuscript pages of that commission, and I try my best to keep to the deadline. Normally I wake up at dawn to write, drinking lots of coffee on an otherwise empty stomach, which gives me constant ulcers. Once the story is completed, I’m happy for about two days before I sink into the meaninglessness of the daily grind, trying to put together a new story. I think I’m trapped in the net of fiction. AH: There are many moments reading your work where I marvel at how satisfyingly you manage to turn minor experiences, which I thought were too obscure to express, into literature. How did you think to put down these experiences, feelings, time, and space into words?SYP: I’ve had a great desire to express myself since I was little. In my neighborhood growing up, I was always called “the child who talks like an adult” or “the kid with the loud mouth.” A child that acts older than his peers is bound to be lonely. I began writing when I really began to wish that someone would understand the emotions or the unbearableness I was feeling in the moment. That’s why I like to capture the most detailed emotions that others may easily overlook, insignificant things that I might feel in very ordinary moments. That actually may be why I became a writer and why I write. I really want to use that “unbearableness” as an energy to imbue the insignificant aspects of the ordinary with power in my work. AH: It’s common practice in Korean publishing to debut an author through a short-story collection rather than a novel, but reading your works gives me the impression that you prefer long form. How do you feel about novels vs. short stories?SYP: In Korea, a writer usually debuts through one of the big short-story contests before being commissioned to write full-length novels. I also had to write short stories in order to find a publisher to publish my work, and I was lucky to win a big competition hosted by a major publisher, but I’ve always wanted to write long narratives like novels. Most of the time I write two to three times more than my allotted number of words whenever I’m commissioned for a short story, which means I have to cut a lot, and that often makes me feel the Korean writing market just isn’t a good fit for me. That’s why I write a lot of novellas and why about half the pages of my book are of some novella or other. My second book will be a novel, and I have a few more novels already planned out after that. I’m a believer in the power of sheer narrative. AH: You don’t use quotation marks in your dialogue. Despite this, I have no problem figuring out who is saying what, and the whole feeling is like that of a fragment of unified memory, not one of a scene being played out before me like in a movie. Is there a particular reason you’re not using quotation marks?SYP: The narrator’s voice is colloquial so I wanted the divide between narration and dialogue to blur. Maybe I wanted the reader to immerse themselves more in the narrator’s storytelling? I wanted them to read quickly and I thought quotation marks would slow them down. Although I have no idea if I achieved that. AH: I saw your friend “Wangsha” pop up on your Instagram recently, and I understand he’s the person who inspired the name for your character. Is the real Wangsha very different from the one in your story or did you just use his name? Is there a reason you use the names of the people around you? How do they feel about their names appearing in your work?SYP: I like to use the physical attributes, accents, drinking habits, and nicknames of my acquaintances in my stories. That helps me immerse myself more in the story, and the details of the characters come to life. Of course, the characters are nowhere near the same as the people in real life, and my characters are completely new combinations and creations. My friends love attention, so they love it when I use their names or nicknames in my work. They even brag about it. They’re like the mean girls in Mean Girls, and it’s really thanks to them that I have my writing career. I got to meet a diversity of people from different classes and sectors . . . Perhaps this variety itself is the source of my narratives and is what sets me apart.AH: You’ve started a column in Hankyeoreh Daily, and I really liked the first installment about going to work in an office. The Shirley Jackson Award-winner Pyun Hye-young, when asked a weird question about what distinguished her from another famous suspense writer, answered that the fact that she had been an office worker made her different from him. Writers from Yeonsu Kim to Toni Morrison have certain ideas about the relationship between day jobs and writing. What do you think was the influence of your own job on your work? SYP: I had a huge desire to write when I was in my early twenties but I had no experience to work from and that was frustrating. I recently quit full-time office work to write my novel, but throughout my twenties I worked at all sorts of offices and managed to gather a variety of episodes and characters to use later on. For the past six years, I’ve worked at an ad agency, as a manager at a college dormitory, as a management consultant, as a reporter at a culture magazine, and as a buyer at a start-up promotion center. I got to meet a diversity of people from different classes and sectors, and thanks to this, my head is full of good writing material. Perhaps this variety itself is the source of my narratives and is what sets me apart from writers who are more known for being beautiful stylists or for writing about things like the secret cracks forming inside the fragile shell of the self.But the thing about those jobs is that you just have no time to write. I was at a nine-to-six full-time job while I was completing my first short-story collection and I had to sleep a lot less because of this. I don’t think I’ve slept more than five hours these past two years since my debut. My health is at a low ebb and I’ve gained 45 pounds, which is why I’ve quit my job and am building up my strength before writing my next novel. AH: Have you thought of writing nonfiction other than your column, or perhaps even movie scripts or other genres?SYP: I like essays, and the column right now is a prelude to a book of essays. The title of the column is “I Better Not Eat Before Bed Tonight” and it’s about the tragedy of an overweight writer who is juggling a full-time job. I’m interested in visual narrative mediums. Like any other writer, I watch Netflix like a maniac. Especially sitcoms. Recently I was into Sex Education, Pose, One Day at a Time, and Russian Doll. I watch all the Cannes and Berlin film festival laureates. I like documentaries, too. I have a friend who studied film, and he said I watched more films than most film students. Incidentally, he reads more literature than I do.Oh, and that very friend told me there was a film director who made movies that were really similar to my writing, so I watched a couple on my own and ended up bawling my eyes out. They were Sean Baker’s Tangerine and The Florida Project. Tangerine is a masterpiece that shows exactly what I wanted to show with my short story “Knockoff Chinese Viagra and Jeje, a Short Joke on Piss that Doesn’t Pool Anywhere,” and the last scene of The Florida Project made me do the ugly cry. I think that Mr. Baker is a man who really knows what life is all about. I can’t wait for his next movie.I’m all for commissions coming from other genres. I’ve actually won a prize in a web drama screenwriting competition run by the Korea Creative Content Agency. I signed a contract with them and got paid and everything, but the project fizzled in pre-production. I’m still sad about that. I don’t really think of my work being turned into movies when I write but I’m more than open to the idea, and I’m always ready to delve into whatever form of writing that will take. AH: Your next book is going to be a novel. How is that going, what’s it about, and when is it coming out?SYP: I’ve actually just finished writing it. It’s what we call an “omnibus novel” in Korea, where a set of short stories are loosely connected to each other to form a larger narrative. You know, like The Vegetarian. I’m trimming away at the four large chapters that create a complete picture at the very end.As to what it’s about . . . if I may be a bit pretentious here again, the key words would basically be queers and Catholicism, women, abortion, STDs, and economic class. I guess it’s about the emptiness that anyone living in a big city these days feels in their everyday lives, written in a very detailed and funny string of love stories. I’m calling it How to Love in the Big City for now, after one of the chapters. I may change the title to Late Rainy Season Vacation. We’re going to try to put it out this summer. I hope you enjoy it! Translated by Anton Hur. Sang Young Park was born in Daegu in 1988. He studied French and journalism at Sungkyunkwan University and attended the creative writing master's program at Dongguk University. He began his career by winning the 2016 Munhakdongne New Writers Award for "Searching for Paris Hilton" and he published his short story collection The Tears of an Unknown Artist, or Zaytun Pasta in 2018.Published Apr 10, 2019   Copyright 2019 Anton HurReturn to WWB DailyLeave Your Comment /* * * CONFIGURATION VARIABLES: EDIT BEFORE PASTING INTO YOUR WEBPAGE * * */ var disqus_shortname = 'wwborders'; // required: replace example with your forum shortname /* * * DON'T EDIT BELOW THIS LINE * * */ (function() { var dsq = document.createElement('script'); dsq.type = 'text/javascript'; dsq.async = true; dsq.src = '//' + disqus_shortname + '.disqus.com/embed.js'; (document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0] || document.getElementsByTagName('body')[0]).appendChild(dsq); })(); Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.comments powered by Disqus
  • English

    2019-12-05

    The Watchlist: May 2019 N

    By Tobias CarrollEach month, Tobias Carroll shares a handful of recently released or forthcoming titles in translation that he’s especially excited about. From World Editions | A Devil Comes to Town by Paolo Maurensig, translated from the Italian by Anne Milano Appel | Fiction | 120 pages | ISBN 9781642860139 | US$14.99What the publisher says: “Taut with foreboding and Gothic suspense, Paolo Maurensig gives us a refined and engaging literary parable on narcissism, vainglory, and our inextinguishable thirst for stories.”What Publishers Weekly says: “Maurensig (Theory of Shadows) skillfully handles the tale’s mysteries and ambiguities: has Father Cornelius really spotted the devil, or is he an unreliable narrator in thrall to his own infernal, Faust-inspired fictions? And is the widespread urge to write, to 'indelibly engrave ourselves on the metaphysical plate of the universe,' demonic or divine? This nested narrative is an entertaining exploration of the manifold powers—creative, confessional, corrupting—of fiction.”What I say: There’s a lot to savor in this bleakly satirical novel, from the description of an isolated town teeming with writers of varying talents to a unique spin on the idea of devils (as opposed to the devil) sowing chaos in the world. The nested structure nods to both nineteenth-century Gothic tales and postmodern lit—which in and of itself suggests the sensibility of this narrative of diabolical interests and literary ambition.  ***From Oneworld | Things That Fall from the Sky by Selja Ahava, translated from the Finnish by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah | Fiction | 240 pages | ISBN 9781786075413 | US$24.95What the publisher says: “Three lives are changed forever by a series of random events: a young girl loses her mother when a block of ice falls from the sky; a woman wins the jackpot twice; and a man is struck by lightning four times. Selja Ahava weaves together these unique stories in a charming, one-of-a-kind tale about just how far people will go to force life into a logical pattern they can make sense of.”What Booklist Online says: “Finnish writer Ahava’s European Union Prize-winning 2015 novel, now her first to be published in English, is a whimsical and thoughtful rumination on the terrifying randomness that dictates the course of a life.”What I say: In different hands, the plot of Things That Fall From the Sky, in which a family grapples with a sudden and bizarre death, might have felt self-consciously quirky or cloying. Instead, Ahava embraces the eccentricities of her characters and the role of randomness in the novel’s plot, pivoting from a meditation on grief into something closer in tone to the Ricky Jay-narrated prologue of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. ***From Yale University Press | The Book of Collateral Damage by Sinan Antoon, translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright | Fiction | 312 pages | ISBN 9780300228946 | US$24.00What the publisher says: “Widely-celebrated author Sinan Antoon’s fourth and most sophisticated novel follows Nameer, a young Iraqi scholar earning his doctorate at Harvard, who is hired by filmmakers to help document the devastation of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. During the excursion, Nameer ventures to al-Mutanabbi street in Baghdad, famed for its bookshops, and encounters Wadood, an eccentric bookseller who is trying to catalogue everything destroyed by war, from objects, buildings, books and manuscripts, flora and fauna, to humans.”What Maaza Mengiste says: “Sinan Antoon is a master storyteller and The Book of Collateral Damage reaffirms his place amongst some of our very best writers. Vividly imagined and sensitively told, this is a tale of one man's exile and return, and all the distances traveled to find a semblance of home.”What I say: Antoon’s novel juxtaposes scenes from the life of Nameer, an Iraqi writer living and working in the United States during the second Gulf War, with a series of writings that he receives in correspondence. As Nameer navigates academic life, romance, and his own complex feelings about the war, Antoon balances the philosophical with the visceral, leading to a haunting denouement.***From Coach House Books | The Laws of the Skies by Grégoire Courtois, translated from the French by Rhonda Mullins | Fiction | 200 pages | ISBN 9781552453872 | US$16.95What the publisher says: "Once upon a time, a class of six-year-olds heads into the forest for a camping trip. The innocent children play games where they imagine monsters everywhere: the creaking of trees becomes a growl, the tree trunk becomes an ogre."What Publishers Weekly says: “Alone in an unforgiving nature and soon separated from any semblance of adult supervision, the brutality of the world is suddenly laid bare for children. Among them, the precociously mature Hugo dares to take a stand against Enzo in a desperate attempt at survival. Unflinching in its savagery, the nightmarish poetry of this modern Lord of the Flies is undeniable.”What I say: The Laws of the Skies takes its title from a fable told within its pages, about a mouse who learns to fly, becoming a bat—and who is subsequently attacked and blinded by vengeful birds. That description suggests a sharp turn from whimsy to menace, and it serves as a model for the novel as a whole. From the outset, we know that this tale of lost children will not have a happy ending, but the bleakness in store for these characters still has plenty of room to unnerve.***From Pica Pica Press | Sun-Tzu’s Life in the Holy City of Vilnius by Ričardas Gavelis, translated from the Lithuanian by Elizabeth Novickas | Fiction | 220 pages | ISBN 9780996630436 | US$13.99What the publisher says: “Another intellectual horror story by the author of Vilnius Poker. In this, Gavelis's last novel before his sudden death at the age of 52, the master of the macabre takes us through the life of the Sun-Tzu of Vilnius, a warrior of the political and economic changes that followed the fall of the Soviet Union. Sun-Tzu launches attacks on his enemies from his bunker hidden in the legendary underground labyrinths of Vilnius. A fantastic metaphoric voyage into the depths of good and evil.”What Dalkey Archive Press says: “Ričardas Gavelis, who passed away in August of 2002, also incorporated eastern themes into work, but brought them back to the Lithuanian setting. His last novel, The Life of Sun-Tzu in the Sacred Town of Vilnius (Sun-Tzu gyvenimas šventame Vilniaus mieste; 2003), was well received and seen as his swan song. The work consists of linked non-narrative chapters about a man imbued with the philosophy of Sun-Tzu.” What I say: Ričardas Gavelis’s life of an unnamed man coming of age and discovering his own unique philosophy of life abounds with questionable morality, deft wordplay, and jarring narrative transitions. Numerous major characters meet untimely fates, creating a sense of a world in which ethics and fate have been turned on their head—and, in turn, helping to explain just why this novel’s protagonist embraces Sun-Tzu’s ethos for his own life. ***From White Pine Press | What Makes a City? by Park Seongwon, translated from the Korean by Chung Hwa Chang and Andrew James Keast | Fiction | 188 pages | ISBN 9781945680205 | US$16.00What the publisher says: "What Makes a City? provides the reader with an intelligent perspective on the strange culture of our times and a series of adventures through which we explore universal human problems. Family, education, the media, popular culture, technology, alienation, financial power or the lack thereof . . . These are among the most prominent components of the eight stories which comprise this book, in which characters struggle—sometimes in despair, but usually with a sense of humor—to understand or at least accept their place in a world that often makes no sense."What Korean Literature Now says: “What makes up a city? The novel answers this question by stating that a city has something hidden inside, something that remains untamed by civilization. Through Park’s novel, we come to discover that although we may travel outside a city, the outside is actually the irrational that is hidden inside.” What I say: The stories in What Makes a City? abound with contradictions: they incorporate everything from quotidian family scenes to high-concept narratives of cryogenic sleep and futuristic debt. What connects them is a sense of storytelling, in both its power and its limitations. This book abounds with questions of stories, both those we tell ourselves and those we process to make sense of the world—even when the world around us lacks all reason.  Looking for more reading suggestions? Check out Tobias Carroll’s recommendations from last month.Published May 15, 2019   Copyright 2019 Tobias CarrollReturn to WWB DailyLeave Your Comment /* * * CONFIGURATION VARIABLES: EDIT BEFORE PASTING INTO YOUR WEBPAGE * * */ var disqus_shortname = 'wwborders'; // required: replace example with your forum shortname /* * * DON'T EDIT BELOW THIS LINE * * */ (function() { var dsq = document.createElement('script'); dsq.type = 'text/javascript'; dsq.async = true; dsq.src = '//' + disqus_shortname + '.disqus.com/embed.js'; (document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0] || document.getElementsByTagName('body')[0]).appendChild(dsq); })(); Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.comments powered by Disqus
  • English

    2019-12-04

    An Interview with Sang Young Park N

    By Anton HurSang Young ParkThe title story of Sang Young Park’s debut collection, Tears of an Unknown Artist, or Zaytun Pasta (Munhakdongne, 2018), is serialized in Words Without Borders in Anton Hur’s translation.  Sang Young Park, now in his early thirties, was born in Daegu, a city in southeastern Korea, where redevelopment has rendered his childhood neighborhood completely unrecognizable. He attended college and graduate school in Seoul, where he earned degrees in French, journalism, and creative writing, and where he worked in various day jobs before recently quitting to write full time and teach at the Seoul Institute of the Arts.In person, Park is solid, bright, and handsome, and he speaks without a trace of a Daegu accent (his mother is from Seoul). Unusually for a Korean man, he also sports a beard. We met a few times to discuss his work but I got so carried away by our conversation that I forgot to record an interview. Consequently, the following interview was conducted over email. Anton Hur (AH): So how did you get the idea to write a story about a Korean gay romance and friendship set in Iraq during the war?Sang Young Park (SYP): The Zaytun Division and Korea’s participation in the Iraq War was something I always had in my arsenal to write about. There’s a complicated story behind it that I’m sure not everyone is interested in—feel free to scroll!I lived in New York City for a year in 2007 and happened to go by Ground Zero one day. I hadn’t planned to go there—I was actually on my way to a nearby Century 21 outlet to buy a bag. The whole block was under construction and it was all steel fences and detour signs. I wasn’t paying much attention because my energy was concentrated on shopping and I was going up the steel-grate steps toward retail glory.At the top of the flight, which was almost two stories tall, I saw a huge and very deep pit over the construction fence below. There was also a sign there, standing like a monument, proclaiming this was Ground Zero. It felt weird to see such a sign amidst my determination to buy some bag at an off-season discount. I couldn’t stay there long, because you had to make it in early for the good stuff, but I felt like a pit had formed in the back of my mind. I thought, I would like to write about that pit someday.The second inspiration for this story had to do with an art piece. Like other pretentiously artsy young people, I love going to art galleries. I never miss a Seoul Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art exhibition on the annual Today’s Artists Award. At the 2015 edition, I was watching Oh Inhwan’s “Looking for the Blind Spot” installation with particular interest. The screens on the wall were showing interviews with military conscripts who had looked for blind spots around their postings where they could masturbate. I was obviously watching this with great concentration when a familiar face appeared on the screen, an upperclassman I knew but hadn’t kept in contact with. Normally he was a man of frustratingly few words, but his slow and monotonous voice in the video was actually very evocative of the desert in Iraq where he had served. I didn’t have much of a choice—I called him up and we had pork bossam wraps at a place near Anguk Station and I got him to talk about the Zaytun Division, Korea’s troop deployment in Iraq during the war. He gave me precious firsthand content on Erbil and a subdivision in charge of drawing murals for public spaces. I kept thinking, this is so great, this would make good fiction, and I jotted down notes with his permission. I bought the bossam that day.Since I had invested time, effort, and money in the story, I thought that I would write it as a full-length novel, once I developed better chops as a novelist. But I ended up writing this short story in 2017, my debut year as a novelist, because of the Captain A Incident (a witch hunt of gay conscripts carried out by a homophobic officer).In all the noise of the controversy surrounding the Incident, I began thinking that I needed my own interpretation of the event. And so, two springs ago, I decided I should write about two men who end up fooling around in the middle of a war zone. I didn’t have as much time as I thought I would to prepare, so I ended up rushing through it. The commission I had received from a magazine was also for a short story, not a novella, which is what the story became. I think I just had too much accumulated inside me and I had to let it all out, which then made me pressed for time. I couldn’t see where the story was going, which made me suffer the whole time I was writing it. Even now, after it’s been published and the reviews have been good, I still think of it with shame and despair because I did not take “Zaytun Pasta” as far as I’d hoped it could go.I guess it’s not that obvious how my story connects to the Captain A Incident. But still, when I read it now, I’m reminded of how I felt I needed to work this out for myself more than anyone else. Because that was how I felt after I finished. I’m really grateful to this story. AH: As a translator, I’m always curious about how writers develop their style. Your usage of postpositions is very precise and leaves no room for foggy ambiguity, and while translating it I kept thinking that you have a very Anglo-Saxon sense of prose. How did you develop your style? What books, education, and epiphanies went into it?SYP: My favorite writers as a kid were Agatha Christie and J. K. Rowling. I’ve read all of the approximately eighty Agatha Christie books that have been translated into Korean. I used to collect them when I was in elementary school. I also spent my teenage years with Harry Potter. You could say those two authors were my literary foundation growing up.If I were to think about it more, maybe I had an Anglo-Saxonish education. My mom was a teacher and she had me read Disney books in English as a child—My favorite was a warm fairy tale entitled Button Soup—and I learned alphabet phonics along with Korean hangul. We had all the Disney movies at home and I watched one every day, Peter Pan the most. My dad loved English pop songs so I grew up listening to Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, and Sarah Brightman more than any Korean artist. In high school I was in the English theater club and wrote plays. I was active in extracurriculars, unlike most kids who were more focused on the college entrance exams, and I was into things like studying the French baccalaureate philosophy questions and generally having a well-rounded high school experience that, compared to most Korean kids, was closer to the model they have in the States or the UK, which trained me in terms of critical thinking.In terms of prose style, I wasn’t really conscious of influences from English literature. Someone did comment during a workshop that my style reminded them of Chuck Palahniuk or David Sedaris, and so when I read their work, I thought, Perhaps they had a similar sentiment and perspective as I did? It could just be my own ego talking. Korean literature tends to allow you to take a lot of poetic license and to use a loose and ambiguous sentence style that stands in for emotional expression, whereas I tend to go for a logically coherent, direct, and concise style. Maybe that reads a bit Anglo-Saxon. I like to capture the most detailed emotions that others may easily overlook, insignificant things that I might feel in very ordinary moments.AH: Could you describe your creative process? How do you choose your material, get inspired, and do the writing?SYP: I jot down notes about funny scenes or hilarious stuff my friends say in real life. I have a lot of weird friends whose heads aren’t quite screwed on right. They’re terrible drinkers and even worse at life. And they’re my muses. Once I have enough incidents and one-liners, I can set up an outline and begin writing. Sometimes it’s social issues or the news that inspires me. The spark is different for every story. “Zaytun Pasta,” as you’ve seen, took a few different sparks.The process itself is very simple. I get commissioned by a literary magazine to write a story, I select an episode from my notes that seems right for the amount of manuscript pages of that commission, and I try my best to keep to the deadline. Normally I wake up at dawn to write, drinking lots of coffee on an otherwise empty stomach, which gives me constant ulcers. Once the story is completed, I’m happy for about two days before I sink into the meaninglessness of the daily grind, trying to put together a new story. I think I’m trapped in the net of fiction. AH: There are many moments reading your work where I marvel at how satisfyingly you manage to turn minor experiences, which I thought were too obscure to express, into literature. How did you think to put down these experiences, feelings, time, and space into words?SYP: I’ve had a great desire to express myself since I was little. In my neighborhood growing up, I was always called “the child who talks like an adult” or “the kid with the loud mouth.” A child that acts older than his peers is bound to be lonely. I began writing when I really began to wish that someone would understand the emotions or the unbearableness I was feeling in the moment. That’s why I like to capture the most detailed emotions that others may easily overlook, insignificant things that I might feel in very ordinary moments. That actually may be why I became a writer and why I write. I really want to use that “unbearableness” as an energy to imbue the insignificant aspects of the ordinary with power in my work. AH: It’s common practice in Korean publishing to debut an author through a short-story collection rather than a novel, but reading your works gives me the impression that you prefer long form. How do you feel about novels vs. short stories?SYP: In Korea, a writer usually debuts through one of the big short-story contests before being commissioned to write full-length novels. I also had to write short stories in order to find a publisher to publish my work, and I was lucky to win a big competition hosted by a major publisher, but I’ve always wanted to write long narratives like novels. Most of the time I write two to three times more than my allotted number of words whenever I’m commissioned for a short story, which means I have to cut a lot, and that often makes me feel the Korean writing market just isn’t a good fit for me. That’s why I write a lot of novellas and why about half the pages of my book are of some novella or other. My second book will be a novel, and I have a few more novels already planned out after that. I’m a believer in the power of sheer narrative. AH: You don’t use quotation marks in your dialogue. Despite this, I have no problem figuring out who is saying what, and the whole feeling is like that of a fragment of unified memory, not one of a scene being played out before me like in a movie. Is there a particular reason you’re not using quotation marks?SYP: The narrator’s voice is colloquial so I wanted the divide between narration and dialogue to blur. Maybe I wanted the reader to immerse themselves more in the narrator’s storytelling? I wanted them to read quickly and I thought quotation marks would slow them down. Although I have no idea if I achieved that. AH: I saw your friend “Wangsha” pop up on your Instagram recently, and I understand he’s the person who inspired the name for your character. Is the real Wangsha very different from the one in your story or did you just use his name? Is there a reason you use the names of the people around you? How do they feel about their names appearing in your work?SYP: I like to use the physical attributes, accents, drinking habits, and nicknames of my acquaintances in my stories. That helps me immerse myself more in the story, and the details of the characters come to life. Of course, the characters are nowhere near the same as the people in real life, and my characters are completely new combinations and creations. My friends love attention, so they love it when I use their names or nicknames in my work. They even brag about it. They’re like the mean girls in Mean Girls, and it’s really thanks to them that I have my writing career. I got to meet a diversity of people from different classes and sectors . . . Perhaps this variety itself is the source of my narratives and is what sets me apart.AH: You’ve started a column in Hankyeoreh Daily, and I really liked the first installment about going to work in an office. The Shirley Jackson Award-winner Pyun Hye-young, when asked a weird question about what distinguished her from another famous suspense writer, answered that the fact that she had been an office worker made her different from him. Writers from Yeonsu Kim to Toni Morrison have certain ideas about the relationship between day jobs and writing. What do you think was the influence of your own job on your work? SYP: I had a huge desire to write when I was in my early twenties but I had no experience to work from and that was frustrating. I recently quit full-time office work to write my novel, but throughout my twenties I worked at all sorts of offices and managed to gather a variety of episodes and characters to use later on. For the past six years, I’ve worked at an ad agency, as a manager at a college dormitory, as a management consultant, as a reporter at a culture magazine, and as a buyer at a start-up promotion center. I got to meet a diversity of people from different classes and sectors, and thanks to this, my head is full of good writing material. Perhaps this variety itself is the source of my narratives and is what sets me apart from writers who are more known for being beautiful stylists or for writing about things like the secret cracks forming inside the fragile shell of the self.But the thing about those jobs is that you just have no time to write. I was at a nine-to-six full-time job while I was completing my first short-story collection and I had to sleep a lot less because of this. I don’t think I’ve slept more than five hours these past two years since my debut. My health is at a low ebb and I’ve gained 45 pounds, which is why I’ve quit my job and am building up my strength before writing my next novel. AH: Have you thought of writing nonfiction other than your column, or perhaps even movie scripts or other genres?SYP: I like essays, and the column right now is a prelude to a book of essays. The title of the column is “I Better Not Eat Before Bed Tonight” and it’s about the tragedy of an overweight writer who is juggling a full-time job. I’m interested in visual narrative mediums. Like any other writer, I watch Netflix like a maniac. Especially sitcoms. Recently I was into Sex Education, Pose, One Day at a Time, and Russian Doll. I watch all the Cannes and Berlin film festival laureates. I like documentaries, too. I have a friend who studied film, and he said I watched more films than most film students. Incidentally, he reads more literature than I do.Oh, and that very friend told me there was a film director who made movies that were really similar to my writing, so I watched a couple on my own and ended up bawling my eyes out. They were Sean Baker’s Tangerine and The Florida Project. Tangerine is a masterpiece that shows exactly what I wanted to show with my short story “Knockoff Chinese Viagra and Jeje, a Short Joke on Piss that Doesn’t Pool Anywhere,” and the last scene of The Florida Project made me do the ugly cry. I think that Mr. Baker is a man who really knows what life is all about. I can’t wait for his next movie.I’m all for commissions coming from other genres. I’ve actually won a prize in a web drama screenwriting competition run by the Korea Creative Content Agency. I signed a contract with them and got paid and everything, but the project fizzled in pre-production. I’m still sad about that. I don’t really think of my work being turned into movies when I write but I’m more than open to the idea, and I’m always ready to delve into whatever form of writing that will take. AH: Your next book is going to be a novel. How is that going, what’s it about, and when is it coming out?SYP: I’ve actually just finished writing it. It’s what we call an “omnibus novel” in Korea, where a set of short stories are loosely connected to each other to form a larger narrative. You know, like The Vegetarian. I’m trimming away at the four large chapters that create a complete picture at the very end.As to what it’s about . . . if I may be a bit pretentious here again, the key words would basically be queers and Catholicism, women, abortion, STDs, and economic class. I guess it’s about the emptiness that anyone living in a big city these days feels in their everyday lives, written in a very detailed and funny string of love stories. I’m calling it How to Love in the Big City for now, after one of the chapters. I may change the title to Late Rainy Season Vacation. We’re going to try to put it out this summer. I hope you enjoy it! Translated by Anton Hur. Sang Young Park was born in Daegu in 1988. He studied French and journalism at Sungkyunkwan University and attended the creative writing master's program at Dongguk University. He began his career by winning the 2016 Munhakdongne New Writers Award for "Searching for Paris Hilton" and he published his short story collection The Tears of an Unknown Artist, or Zaytun Pasta in 2018.Published Apr 10, 2019   Copyright 2019 Anton HurReturn to WWB DailyLeave Your Comment /* * * CONFIGURATION VARIABLES: EDIT BEFORE PASTING INTO YOUR WEBPAGE * * */ var disqus_shortname = 'wwborders'; // required: replace example with your forum shortname /* * * DON'T EDIT BELOW THIS LINE * * */ (function() { var dsq = document.createElement('script'); dsq.type = 'text/javascript'; dsq.async = true; dsq.src = '//' + disqus_shortname + '.disqus.com/embed.js'; (document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0] || document.getElementsByTagName('body')[0]).appendChild(dsq); })(); Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.comments powered by Disqus
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