Endless blue sky by Lee Hyoseok

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Endless Blue Sky by Lee Hyoseok

Korean fiction

Original title 벽공문한

Translator – Stevenn D Capener

Source – Review copy

Honford star is another of those rising band of the small publisher that is cutting its own corner in the world of translated fiction with bringing out works from Southeast Asia Korea in Particular. They have chosen works from modern classic writers from Korea. Lee Hyoseok is another example of the writers Honford star have been brought to us. He studied English in the early thirties in Keijo university. He was a fan of the works of Thomas Mann and Anton Chokov. But was most influenced by the group of nine writers of his fellow Korean writers. Which he was a member of. Where they all influenced each other in there writing.

Ilmas’s duties as a cultural envoy were actually quite simple. He was to go to Harbin and negotaite the invitation of a symphony orchesra. Although there was no mention of an ocupation on Ilma’s nuisness card, while writing commentaries on current cultural topics and critical essays on music, he had natrually come to be considered, by himself and others, as a culture mediator, Recent displays of his talents in the field, inculding successfully arranging for the performances of renowned theatrical troupes from Tokyo had brought Ilma to the attentoon of certain people.

how he got his job in Harbin that would lead to him falling for Nadia.

This is a romance but it is also the story of various cultures clashing just before the world they all know was to descend into the darkness of the second world war. We follow Ilma a Korean Journalist. He has been sent to Manchuria to be a cultural Envoy by the editor of Hyundai Daily. He has also been sent to get an Orchestra to play in Korea. What follows is the falling in love between Ilma and a Russian dancer Nadia. They both fall for each other’s worlds in a way he tells her about the breaking cosmopolitan nature of Modern Korea. But the city of Harbin where they are feels a lot more western as it is more liberal than Korea. They talk in a shared language of English and she tells him about life in the west. But there is a thorn in their sides an Actress that Ilma knew Daneyeong that isn’t happy that he is seeing a none Korean. From watching western films like the southern carrier a film about the early pioneering aviators. Then we have a kidnapping (common at this time in this part of the world) then Drug taking as well. A couple falls in love on the cusp of world war two.  but in the background is what lies ahead.

“Who are you talking about?”

“Whaddya mean who? Nadia, of course.”

“Nadia asks about me? Ilma stood with his mouth open his heart suddenly aflutter. “Truth be told, the first thing I think of when I come to Harbin is Nadia. Did she really ask about me ?

When he first gets a glimmer of the fact that Nadia likes him !

This is a book of its time a writer trying to cram as much of his world at the time as he can. The world that was in a way the setting is the late thirties southern carrier came out in 1937 and the book was written in 1941. So I feel he is trying to capture that world just before the world change. I have long been a fan of books that show clashing cultures and this is shown here from the Western Harbin a cosmopolitan gem that is what people like ILma and his Editor world like Korea to be. Then we have the feeling of falling in love at the wrong time. I was reminded of the loves of Charles Ryder in Brideshead another book that followed those years on the cusp of war. Even a book like Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin another book that captures that crazy pre-war world of new ideas and liberal values!! The world that like Hyoseok saw the barriers and cultural world changing slightly. I enjoyed this it is a busy book packed full of threads of stories but it serves a dollop of a world that is gone. The book has a great intro from the translator, he is a real fan of the writer. The book is also has a specially commissioned cover based on the book by a Korean artist.

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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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