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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Another man’s city by Ch’oe In-Ho

Another man’s city by Ch’oe In-ho

Korean fiction

Original title -Nat Igun t’aindul ui tosi

Translators – Bruce and Ju-chan Fulton

Source – review copy

“City Sickness”

I’m crawling, don’t know where to or from
The centre of things from where everything stems
Is not where I belong
And the city sickness, growing inside me
So this is where I ran for freedom
Where I may not be free

[Chorus:]
I have these hands beating with love for you
And you’re not here to touch
Sent you away, what else can I do
When I need something that much?
I’m hurting babe, in the city there’s no place for love
It’s just used to make people feel better

I choose the Tinderstick as the mood of this song fitted the book .

Born in Seoul He studied english at university, when he left he started writing publishing his first story in 1967 .Which won a prize, he won a bigger prize with his book Deep blue night. He died two years ago and was remembered a year late when his hand prints were put on a street where he used to drink a lot .I was sent the third set of  library of Korean Literature books the 11- 15 in the series. I read a Pavane for a dead princess and wasn’t bowled over by it I felt it was maybe to Korean for me.But then earlier this year Tony reviewed this book and it made me pick it up .

7a.m.

(POWER ON)

What the hell? K groped the fuzzy boundary between sleep and wakefulness for an answer – what had awakened him?

His alarm clock. The strident ring a desperate cry letting the world know of its existence. Again the shrill clamor.

Dammit! K didn’t like being woken up. He fumbled at the nightstand found the alarm click, silenced .

He wasn’t fully awake. But he was conscious enough to splice the snapped filmstrip of his interrupted sleep, and he closed his eyes

The opening and a dazed K wakes up , I love that line” snapped filmstrip of his interupted sleep “

Another man’s city should really be subtitled Kafka does Korea . We find K a man who likes a drink that seems to get swallowed into a nightmare version of his hometown Seoul .So over the course of the weekend he has lost a period of time .We follow him as he tries to find what happened in this time. But is this real of a VR world one is never sure if this is the case. It is a shifting world he is in maybe electronic or maybe as he sobers up.

Well thought K, there was that one and half hour gap in the filmstrip of his memory, but he couldn’t recall anything that might have caused a concussion. He hadn’t noticed any marks on his head, no evidence of bleeding, no signs of trauma, no headache .

What happend in the missing reel of his life film,  so to speak ?

I over time have found writers ripple through time and place, the great writers  we all know and love have had a knock effect where it is Kafka who has influenced this writer. This is one of a number of books over the years I have reviewed that have been influenced by Kafka from the obvious books like Claudel’s The investigation through books like Muller’s The appointment. Here Kafka raises his head from the main characters name K to being trapped in a world. I was also reminded of fims like the matrix where the world around the lead character is a shifting one.Then there is the other side of the book the fact K is a drinking from what I can gather the writer himself was a bit of a drinker so may have also experienced lost time which many of us did in our youth but not 99 mins like here alsommaybe in a strange way Withnail and I where the time in the weekend away the spend stretches and shrinks as the weekend goes along .An interesting take on being trapped in a world and not knowing fully where it is .I view this as more a comment on the speed and way of the modern world where every minute is noted these days so losing a chunk of time is unknown now.

Have you read any of the Library of Korean Literature series ?

The hen who dreamed she could fly by Sun – Mi Hwang

The Hen who dreamed she could fly by Sun-Mi Hwang

Korean fiction

Translator – Chi Young Kim

Original title – 마당을 나온 암탉

Source – personnel copy

SKYBIRD
Skybird
Make your sail
And every heart will know
Of the tale
Songbird
Make you tune
For none may sing it
Just as you do

Look at the way I glide
Caught on the wind’s lazy tide
Sweetly how it sings
Rally each heart at the sight
Of you silver wings

I choose Neil Diamonds lyrics from his songs for Jonathan livingstone  seagull

I visit Korea again this woman in translation month . With a best seller in Korea by Sun-Mi Hwang .As a young girl her family couldn’t afford to send her to primary school but thanks to a kind teacher manage to be able to read books after school and got into high school because of this .The book came out in 2000 in Korea and was made into one of the best-selling animated films in Korea also a comic and Musical .

Sprout liked to stare out into the barnyard .She would much rather watch the ducks scuttle away from the dog than peck at feed .Closing her eyes she imagined herself wandering freely about . She fantasized about sitting in a nest on an egg , about venturing into the fields with  the rooster , and about following the ducks around .

THe opening lines and we see how Sprout daydreams .

This book it seems is part of a trend of Korean fiction , like the other book from this genre of Korean fiction I reviewed earlier in the year the salmon who dared to leap higher . These fairy tale / fable tales have a greater meaning under the basic story . So this is well as it says on the tin the story of a Hen her name is sprout .She lives in a farm and is in a cage with other hens laying eggs . But this hen by chance glimpse the outside world and wants to not lay and lose her eggs but also see the wider world beyond the cage . She manages to escape and journey outside to the barn , then she  meets the  ducks .This is where she meets greentop ,whom she adopts greentop is an  orphan duckling , whom she has to help along in life as well as finding her own way in the wider world and does she finally get to fly .

“Baby careful ”

“Mum look where I am !” he waved his little wing joyously . the Lilly pad tipped and he fell into the water .

“Baby ” Sprout panicked ,surprised , Baby flailed about .Sprout ran into the reservoir , but her feathers became waterlogged , and she barely managed to get out .

he motherly instinct comes to the front her to save baby even at the rick of her own life .

I read a lot into this about Korean life in general .I see sprout somewhat as Korea  of today , maybe greentop is North Korea in some way the child you didn’t give birth too but want look after but maybe don’t want to let go off .Sprouts journey could also maybe be seen as Korea own journey into the world and discovering the world after the Korean war . Now that could be me seeing too much into it it could just be a story rather like the kids books like Charlotte’s web or Jonathan Livingstone about someone make the way in the world their own way . You could also connect this in part to the film chicken run which follows a group of chickens as they try to escape by learning to fly .Anyway this is a fun book with some lovely illustrations that the uk publisher commissioned for the book . I managed to find a trailer to the film .

 

the vegetarian by Han Kang

The vegetarian by Han Kang

korean Fiction

Original title – 채식주의자

Translator – Deborah smith

Source – review copy

 

Heifer whines could be human cries
closer comes the screaming knife
this beautiful creature must die
this beautiful creature must die
a death for no reason
and death for no reason is MURDER
and the flesh you so fancifully fry
is not succulent, tasty or nice
it is death for no reason
and death for no reason is MURDER
and the calf that you carve with a smile
is MURDER
and the turkey you festively slice
is MURDER

Back when this came out maybe being vegetarian was the same here as it was for Yeong -Hye in Korea .Of course only one lyric for this book Meat is murder by the mighty smiths .

I was sent this just before it came out and I read it back when it came out and was going to review it then , but the day I went to write a post I saw a couple of other people had posted and a few did the next day so rather than be a  small fish in a shoal of fish ,I decided to wait til this month as I thought well I’m sure folks would be interested at the time and a gentle nudge may make a few more people want to read this book .Han Kang Teaches creative writing at Seoul institute of arts and has won a number of prizes in her native Korea incurring the Korean Literature novel award .

Before my wife turned vegetarian .I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way . to be frank , the first time I met her I wasn’t even attracted to her .Middling height ; bobbed hair neither long nor short ; jaundiced , sickly-looking skin ; somewhat prominent cheekbones ; her timid sallow aspect told me all I needed to know .As she came up to the table where I was waiting .I couldn’t help but notice her shoes – the plainest black shoes imaginable ,and that walk of hers – neither fast nor slow , striding not mincing .

Well poor Yeong-Hye her husband didn’t even notice her the first time they met bar her plain shoes .

Well I was excited about this especially after hear a discussion on  trying to find Vegetarian restaurant on the three percent podcast made me aware that there is actually not many vegetarians or a culture of being vegetarian in Korea  so the main decision in this book is a hard one to make .This novel is a trio of stories about one wives Yeong-Hye journey into become vegetarian and how it affects her husband and her sister and brother-in-law the later whom happens to be a video artist and uses Yo=eong-Hye in what are becoming more and more sexual and erotic works of art .All this send this woman into a downward spiral of self-destruction and sees her own sister come near to the edge as well .We see the ripples of this decision to become vegetarian .

“Lie on your side for me ” slowly as though timing her movements to some music only she could hear , she bent her arms legs and waist and rolled onto her side . He panned the camera down the ridge of her side and over the soft curve of her buttocks , then filmed first the flowers  on her back the flowers of night and the the flowers of the sun on her front .

I choose this as it shows Yeong-Hye could be very sensual in another’s eyes

The book is really a study of what happens when one person decides to do something outside society’s norms .The trio of stories  or as I view them myself they are more like a triptych so the in three parts the start middle and end of this breaking of the norms of society . The beginning sees the family coping how families cope , rather extreme at times as she is almost force-fed at some points .The next part sees a woman slowly become alone , but as this happens falling into an unhealthy partnership with the failing artist of a brother-in-law .the last part well I leave that to you to find lout this book is one that ,makes you think what would make people react the way Yeong-Hye family and friends reacted in the uk these days . I’m not sure what but I think if someone say is from a strong religious , cultural background or class the fallout may be the same as in this book . It shows what happens when a person is pushed out .I was reminded of some of the great pieces of central european fiction for example Blaugast , I have read where the story is the flip  and it is a male  perspective  on  being on the outside of society .Also a great translation by Deborah who we all followed on twitter as she did this one of her first translations .I love the cover which you have to look art ever so carefully to fully get !!

Have you read this book or any other korean novel ?

The salmon who dared to leap higher by Ahn Do-Hyun

The Salmon Who Dared to Leap Higher

The salmon who dared to leap higher by Ahn Do-Hyun

Korean Fiction

Original title – 연어 이야기 (연어 그 두 번째 이야기)

Translator – Deborah Smith

Source – Review copy

 

 

“War Of Man”

The little creatures
run in from the cold
Back to the nest
just like the days of old
There in the safety
of a mother’s arms
The warmth of ages,
far away from harm again.

Ears ringin’
from the battle fire
The tired warrior
aims a little higher
The black falcon
or the little sparrow
The healing light
or the flash of the barrel.

I choose a song from Neil young his war of man ,which has an eco message behind it .

When this book dropped through the letter box the other week , I nearly put it too one side till I saw it was translated by Deborah , whom I have spoken with on twitter and had a brief chat with at LBF and did talk about this book as i finished it a few days before  .Although the cover was appealing as well . Ahn Do-Hyn has won numerous prizes in Korea including the so-wol poetry prize which is one of the best known poetry prizes in Korea .He studied Korean literature and this is his first book to be translated into English .

Silver salmon had managed to avoid becoming a meal for the fierce eagle .

And yet , something strange – rather than the giddy relief of having cheated death , he feels a pang of sadness at having escaped unharmed . Because the salmon who had been caught – the one who’d swum by his side ever since they left their home river ,

Silver salmon escapes the clutches of a fish eagle .

This book is part of a series of novels that are marketed in Korea as Adult fables (thanks to Deborah for that ) .The salmon who dared to leap higher is the story of one salmon’s journey  the silver salmon  as we follow them from the sea up the river he came from .The journey is a perilous one that sees many of the salmon’s swimming along side . We are told little stories of the companions along side  . The fish have to avoid eagles and bears as they try to get to the river head . Of course the book is more a fable of modern life in Korea and the river maybe is the everyday journey in life of Koreans they are maybe the salmon’s trying to reach the river head and mate have children etc .But also the world around them and the human world .

Bag-of-bones salmon was also in possessions of exceptional memory . His mind was like an enormous storehouse where all manner of facts are filed and preserved .Circling over the riverbed ,he mutters to himself , “Yes , the rapids have increased in height by 35 centimetres since we leapt down over them ”

The salmon remember the world through a sort of collective passing of tales almost their own fables .

I read this in one sitting , which for me is the sign of a book of  120 pages I have actually really enjoyed . This is a fun fable , I initially compared it in my head to Jonathan Livingstone seagull and yes the salmon of the story journey through its life is similar too Jonathan’s journey . But for me this is maybe more based in Korean culture , I was reminded of one of the other books I read from Korea on the Blog please look after mother and maybe this is the same story in a fable manner the salmon as a whole are trying to reach a point but some get eaten and some just can’t make the journey and this is maybe mirroring modern Korea where the country has jumped so quickly in the last fifty years since the end of the korean war .But also serves as a remind of the natural world around them .I feel Deborah did a great job of what must be a poetic book in the original Korean a lyrical feel to the story in english .I must admit I do love the cover art as well and the book has some great illustrations through the book capture the novella well .

Have you a favourite fable ?

A million sell in Korea -please look after mother by Kyung-Sook Shin

Source – Review copy

Translator – Chi-young Kim

Kyung-Sook ,family we re farmers ,she worked in an electronic plant study at night whilst finally reaching the Seoul institute of arts ,her first novel came out in 1985 ,she is part of the 386 generation of Korean writers .Please look after mother is her sixth novel and the first to be translated to english a runaway best seller in her homeland .

So I wondered what would make  million korean’s buy this novel when I got it the blurb is appealing but not grabbing .But then I started the book and I slowly got drawn into the family .The family is a husband and wife ,the mother of the title she has disappeared en route to visit her family in Seoul ,the other characters in the family are thew soon and daughter .The story is told by each of these ,ending with the mother’s story .As the pages drifted by we learnt more and more how the mother had sacrificed so her kids could get at start in life ,but as the kids grew and moved away they maybe felt embarrassed by their simple plain mum who wore simple clothes and worked on the land .The husband tells of his wife the jobs she did round the farm her dealing with fish and making things .so we see them starting the search and as these memories drift through eaches stories you see the mother grow and the love they have for her grow as they remember here ,I ll leave the mother story as you have to read this book .

A women takes on of his flyers and pauses for a moment to look at the picture of Mother .Under the clock tower where  Mother used to wait for him .

After he found his place in the city,Mother would arrive at Seoul station looking like a war refugee .She would walk onto the platform with bundles balanced on her head and slung over her shoulders and in her hands,the things she couldn’t otherwise carry strapped to her waist .It was amazing that she could still walk .

The son’s story ,as he remembers his mum arriving when he moved away from home .

The quote gets to the core of this book and why it  is such a success in Korea ,but also such a great book for anyone wanting to know about Korea .As I said she is a member of the 386 generation ,this is the generation that got the country moving the ones that drew Korea from a broken country to the trading powerhouse it is today .so this story of the family is a story most Koreans have experienced as they moved from the land got good education and moved to the cities to make invent and design the numerous products we get from Korea .we see the older generations giving up so much to make this happen but also they like the family life they have and are happy ,the kids that want to get away for the country and into the modern world and large cities of Korea ,but still work hard and keep family contacts even thou the older generation to them now seem very out of step with the world .so if you want a heart-warming story of family and what parents mean this is the book to read .I must admit I now can see why a million Koreans brought it .

Do you have a favourite Korean book ?

THE GUEST BY HWANG SOK-YONG

Hwang Sok -Yong was born in the 40’s when Japan was in Korea ,he has always been involved in politics been arrested on a number of occasions and in 90’s jailed for his activities in north Korea as a southern korean he was jailed for 7 years but after a campaign from PEN was release  .he has written numerous novels and all so spent a lot of time in America and fought for america in the Vietnam war .THe guest starts of the story of two exiled brothers from Korea living in new york and new jersey .THE main character Ryu Yosop the younger brother has found a way to return for a visit to North Korea ,and is visiting his brother Ryu Yohan in New Jersey .his brother isn’t so keen on the idea but gives his blessing but before he travel Yosop brother die he ,take a bone after cremation to take part of his brother home to Korea and the area they grew up which is now in north Korea .Just before the journey is told there is a change in policy and they have to travel to Pyong yang the capital not th area he is from ,on arrival the american Korean visitors are met by 3 guides that are stern and tow the Government line .he does meet his family and an incident that happened more than forty years ago is brought to life and what happen to the family members that where left behind when the north became the North .

The homeland visitors were taken to the Koryo Hotel and ,in the lobby ,introduced to their guides ;two men and one women .the first man ,in his fifties was rather fat and had beady eyes ;the other in his forties had oiled and neatly combed hair every last strand of his hair all the way back .this second man was extremely thin and looked particularly high-strung .The women looked suave ,though she too was somewhat on the plump side .She had a high soprano voice .

Ryu Yosop meets his 3 North Korean guides .

This book is about so many things war ,the aftermath of war belonging changes ,returning to your home and not quite belonging ,family .It is a powerful story on so many levels and gave me a wonderful in sight into the Korean life and how it affects people in the north Korea .the book is equal parts horror and Beauty in parts .some places in maybe drifts into an anti American polemic .I really enjoyed it and found it a refreshing insight into a country and society I knew very little about .

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