Sweet potato by Kim Tongin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Potato by kim Tongin

Korean short stories

Original title – Gamja  감자

Translator – Grace Jung

Source – review copy

Kim Tongin or Kim Dong-in as he was also known. Like many Koreans of his generation in the early 20th century he studied in Japan in Tokyo. But dropped out to become a writer as he had funds from a family inheritance, which meant he lived an extravagant lifestyle til his funds start running out in the thirties, he launched a magazine in the mid-thirties.He then visited China and in the forties, he was sent to jail in Japan. He died in 1951 aged just fifty. This is the first collection of his stories to be published in English from new publishing house Honford star.

It’s strange how when one person gets disciplined everyone else in the room shakes. (it’s neither public rage nor camarderie.) It;s not just that the body shakes, but thae heart shakes with it.the first time i experienced these shakes is when I got beaten up for three hours straight and shook like a po[lar in the detention room for two hours.(This is now something I deal with at least twice a day) the room is like a dead person’s cell.Not a sound . I can’t even breath loudly.No one wants to look inside here for fear that that they might encountewr a ghost.

From the story flogging a powerful passage on fear of violence shown in a body shaking .

There is a selection of stories from all over his career. They paint a picture of Northern Korea that I think is now long gone. From a tale of boat folk a brother who is a boatman make nightly trips from a small fishing village a story told over a number of years. Then Flogging is about a man in a jail in Japan, there is a real sense of the hatred between Korea and Japan in the way they treat each other. He builds a sense of fear, with comments like when one person gets discipline they all shake around him a real sense of fear. Then the title story follows an arranged marriage of a young poor girl to an older man shows power struggle as she ends up in poverty after getting raped at a salt mine by the boss and ends up turning to the street.This is also one of a number of well-written female characters in the book. A woman has an affair with a married man whom she tries to turn into something better.

Fighting, adultery, murder, begging, imprisionment – the slums outside the Ch’ilssong gate were tje point of orgin for all of life’s tragedieds and conflicts. Pongnyo and her husband were farmers – the second in class ranking (scolar, farmer,artisan and tradesman). Pongyno was poor but raised in a household that upheld principles.The strict rules of sonbi were left behind once the family fell into the rank of farmer.But some level of discipline, order and intelligence lingered.

The opeining lines of Sweet potato tell of a girl that grew with pricnciples but has a hard life when she marries.

 

Kim was known for the realistic nature of his works and he does here seem to set a world that is long gone the Korea of the past a more rural world, a slower world than the one now and in the case that most of the stories are set in the north of Korea a world that is now shut to public eyes. The title story has been made into a film a couple of times the first version is on youtube but hasn’t subtitles which is a shame. The cover art for the book was specially painted by a south Korean artist jee-ook Choi to reflect the title story.A great intro into one of the best regard writers from Korea one of the first true modern writers from that country a man that fought for a Korean voice in his writing.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. 1streading
    Oct 01, 2017 @ 18:30:58

    Always great to see a new publisher. This sounds really interesting.

    Reply

  2. Lisa Hill
    Oct 01, 2017 @ 22:54:31

    Yes, there is longstanding enmity between Japan and Korea. I think it dates from WW2 but maybe before that as well.
    (When The Spouse was on a business trip in Asia, taking in both Korea and Japan, people in Japan asked him to tell them about Korea because despite their proximity they would never visit it.)
    (This is why the current standoff over North Korea is so messy: it’s not in the interests of Japan or the USA to see a united Korea, which is what might arise if there was a war – which North Korea would certainly lose).

    Reply

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