Dating to 1936 and the only piece from the colonial era, Yi Hyosok's "In the Mountains" is a back-to-nature evocation of rural life on the fringes of society. The other stories span the post-war period.
The traumatic political history of the peninsula is part of the background in several of the stories, but is directly invoked in two. Ch'ae Manshik's "Constable Maeng" revolves around personnel changes in the police force following liberation by the Americans in 1945. The longest piece, Kim Wonil's sixty page novella "Prison of the Heart", is set in 1989 and depicts the suppression of social activism by the South Korean state, through the lives of three siblings; it also looks back at the wartime experiences of a mother with three small children during the Korean War.
From the 1970s, O Chonghui's dreamy, evocative "Weaver Woman" and Pak Wanso's forthright "We Teach Shame!" are first-person stories that touch on marriage and remarriage, social status and the awkward place of women in a modernising but still Confucian society.
The four most recent stories, written between 1996 and 2006 — Kim Yongha's meta-fictional romance "The Pager", Ha Songnan's poignant second-person Bildungsroman "Waxen Wings", P'yon Hyeyong's eerie "Corpses" and Kim Chunghyok's "The Glass Shield", a comic tale of two performance artists — are perhaps influenced as much by international models and trends as by Korean tradition, but still have a distinctive feel.
- Related reviews:
- Bruce Fulton - Modern Korean Fiction: An Anthology
- Bruce Fulton - The Red Room: Stories of Trauma in Contemporary Korea
- more Korean literature
- more short fiction