Modern Korean Fiction: An Anthology

Bruce Fulton + Youngmin Kwon (editors)

translated from the Korean
Columbia University Press 2005
A book review by Danny Yee © 2014
With twenty two stories spanning the 20th century, selected for their quality and accessibility in translation and not just as representative, this superb anthology would make a great entry point to Korean literature. It only covers short stories, with some selections from story cycles, but includes works by the best known novelists — and the short story is a Korean speciality, making the title justifiable.

Many of the stories have political elements (Ch'oe Yun's "The Gray Snowman", Pak Wanso's "Mother's Hitching Post"); there is even one story from North Korea (Kim Pukhyang's "The Son"), which is enough to give a feel for the constraints and conventions of DPRK literature. There are stories centred on the ruptures of cultural change (Yi Munyol's "The Old Hatter", Ch'oe Chonghui's "The Ritual at the Well"), the internal perspective of alienated or disturbed individuals (Yi Sang's "Wings", O Chonghui's "Wayfarer"), complicated family relationships (Yi Ch'ongjun's "Footprints in the Snow", Hwang Sunwon's "Coarse Sand"), the plight of the underclass (Yi Hoch'ol's "Far From Home", Cho Sehui's "Knifeblade"), or in many cases several of these themes.

Overall the collection has a fairly sombre feel — as is perhaps typical of great short stories anywhere — but what comes through most strongly are compelling characters in wildly varying social settings, and the striking and distinctive voices of the writers presenting them. Modern Korean Fiction illustrates the power and diversity of Korean short fiction.

Note: Bruce Fulton's later anthology Waxen Wings is also excellent, but has half as many stories. Other anthologies mostly cover shorter periods, writing by women (who are represented by four stories here) or specialist topics.

August 2014

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Related reviews:
- Bruce Fulton - The Red Room: Stories of Trauma in Contemporary Korea
- Bruce Fulton - Waxen Wings: The Acta Koreana Anthology of Short Fiction from Korea
- Bruce Fulton - The Future of Silence: Fiction by Korean Women; Wayfarer: New Fiction by Korean Women
- more Korean literature
- more short fiction
- books published by Columbia University Press
%T Modern Korean Fiction: An Anthology
%E Fulton, Bruce
%E Kwon, Youngmin
%M Korean
%I Columbia University Press
%D 2005
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9780231135139
%P 390pp