Questioning Minds:
Short Stories by Modern Korean Women Writers

Yung-Hee Kim (editor)

translated from the Korean by Yung-Hee Kim
University of Hawaii Press 2010
A book review by Danny Yee © 2018 http://dannyreviews.com/
As well as being written by women, the ten stories in Questioning Minds — roughly one from each decade of the twentieth century — mostly involve the challenges faced by women in Korean society. At one end of the century, Kim Myong-sun's 1917 "A Girl of Mystery", "which made her the first modern Korean woman writer", is a family tragedy highlighting the inequities of traditional marriage and male privilege. At the other, the protagonist of Pak Wan-So's 1995 "Dried Flowers" faces the challenges of ageing and the possibility of remarriage. In between are struggles to get an education, unhappy marriages, midlife crises, class barriers, fraught relationships with children and parents, problems with in-laws, and more. A historical relaxation of Confucian patriarchy can be seen, but also its abiding presence.

The stories vary in style and mood, and in form and perspective. The longest, Yi Sun's 1979 novella "A Dish of Sliced Raw Fish", is "a self-narrative told in memory mode"; the shortest, Kim Won-ju's 1926 "Awakening", is epistolary, with the protagonist writing about her marriage to a friend. Yi Sok-pong's "The Light at Dawn" is a sad story of a couple's misunderstanding. Ch'oe Yun's "Stone in Your Heart" combines a woman's attempt to understand her husband's death in a car crash with her employer's attempt to understand the massacre of his entire family in the Korean War.

Editor Kim Yung-Hee includes a general introduction, surveying the history of women's writing in Korea, and a separate introduction for each individual story, giving a brief biography of the author and the historical context of their life and work. This material is aimed at those without any background knowledge of the country. Each story also has an afterword, explaining the plot and themes of the story. All this gives the volume something of a "textbook" feel, but that doesn't spoil the stories themselves, which can be read and appreciated by themselves.

Its temporal reach and explanatory additions make Questioning Minds a good entry to Korean women's writing for those — perhaps students of women's studies or world literature — after a historical or political overview. For those with a more literary bent, the more contemporary anthology The Future of Silence might work better.

January 2018

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%T Questioning Minds
%S Short Stories by Modern Korean Women Writers
%E Kim, Yung-Hee
%M Korean
%F Kim, Yung-Hee
%I University of Hawaii Press
%D 2010
%O paperback, notes, index
%G ISBN-13 9780824834098
%P 233pp