Thursday, October 01, 2009

Return to 'Singa'

Who Ate Up All the Shinga?
Park Wan-suh
(Image from

I've written about the Korean author Park Wan-suh a couple of times on this blog because I served as a referee for Yu Young-nan and Stephen Epstein's manuscript translation of Who Ate Up All the Shinga two years ago when the title was slightly different (e.g., "Singa") and thereby had the good fortune then of meeting the author for dinner.

I'm currently re-reading this 'novel' -- or so says the book cover, i.e., "An Autobiographical Novel" -- and enjoying it just as much as the first time. Except that I've been asked to write a short review for a scholarly journal, which adds a bit of anxiety to my enjoyment.

Despite the label "novel" -- used, I take it, because Ms. Park does not entirely trust her memory and considers memory, in part, an art of imagination, as Epstein remarks in the introduction (p. xii) -- the book is clearly what we'd ordinarily call "autobiography."

But the book is not ordinary. It's extraordinary. And frequently funny. I had to laugh at one anecdote about her strict Confucian grandfather, who insisted on propriety, particularly the requirement that women remain close to the home, preferably indoors, and not make a spectacle of themselves in any way that would bring ridicule on the family. One winter day when Park was still in elementary school, she was trying out her new ice skates on one of the frozen rice paddies in front of her village home -- but ineptly trembling and tumbling again and again as her friends all watched in transfixed fascination. Her grandfather happened to glimpse this spectacle through the window in their front door and, aghast, shouted an order that she be brought to him instantly:
"Don't you realize you're humiliating the entire family?" he yelled. "And a girl, at that? Don't you have any better games to play than imitating a shaman's blade dance?" (89)
As Park then writes, she herself almost laughed at the words of her old grandfather, "who didn't even know what skating was and whose limited imagination made him think of a shaman dancing on blades" (89). Park has prepared the reader well for the anecdote, having already previously described blade dancing by shamans as well as her grandfather's Confucian-honed disdain for folk religion.

I may soon be reporting more on this book and Park Wan-suh as I turn to re-read again before attempting to compose my review since writing on this blog offers brainstorming opportunities.

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At 12:18 AM, Blogger Cath said...

Would love to read that book!

At 2:37 AM, Blogger John B said...

The author passed away just two-three years ago, correct?

Brother Anthony at Sogang links to some translations of her work. There are a few translated collections of her short stories, as well. Namely, My Very Last Possession and Other Stories. She was probably the most prolific Korean woman writer to date.

At 5:47 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Cath, the book is now available through Amazon and other booksellers, so just click and order.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:50 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John B, the author is very much alive and even being intereviewed, as here.

Thanks for the link to Brother Anthony, by the way.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:52 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Intereviewed? That was a typo, but it fits, so I claim rights for coining a new word.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:58 AM, Blogger Charles Montgomery said...


something on your site I can comment on. ;-)

It's a great book.. I bet you're reviewing it for Acta? I'm reviewing it for Korean Journal online.

Such an 'autobiography' might bring her into the Nobel conversation. I'm waiting a few decades (if I make it that long) and going with Kim Young-ha.

In any case, I'm in favor of anything that gets the word out about Korean literature.


At 10:15 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yeah, the review's for Acta. Park would be a likely consideration for the Nobel if she were better known outside of Korea, but she'd need to live a very long life for that honor, I suspect.

Jeffery Hodges

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