Monday, November 09, 2009

Park Wan-suh: A Writer's Vocation

Park Wan-suh
(Image from

As some readers have probably noticed, I've been working to finish a short review of Park Wan-suh's autobiographical 'novel' Who Ate Up All the Shinga?, and I've now completed a rough draft, from which I provide the following material that makes up part of my introduction:
The author herself appeared somewhat late on the Korean literary scene with her first novel, Namok (The Naked Tree), published in 1970, when she was nearly forty, and though one might imagine that she had also come late to recognize her vocation as a writer, Shinga tells otherwise. In the penultimate paragraph of the final chapter, significantly titled "Epiphany," the bewildered and frightened Park finds herself and her family trapped during the Korean War in an utterly abandoned Seoul confronted with the threat of its imminent reoccupation by Communist forces, apparently a cul de sac:
But an abrupt change in perspective hit me. I felt as though I'd been chased into a dead end but then suddenly turned around. Surely there was meaning in my being the sole witness to it all. How many bizarre events had conspired to make us the only ones left behind? If I were the sole witness, I had responsibility to record it. (248)
In the passage that follows, which is the final paragraph of the book, Park adds, "From all this came a vision that I would write someday, and this premonition dispelled my fear" (248). The abruptness of her epiphany might suggest that Park's development as a writer stemmed from that moment as its initiatory point, but the author herself shows us that the process was already long in motion.
The remainder of my short review looks briefly at this process, but I'll report on that after the review is published . . . if it gets published.

One never knows . . .

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At 5:06 AM, OpenID sonagi92 said...

Hanbooks is having a 15% off sale, so I decided to add to my growing pile of unread Korean novels (including The Guest, by buying Park Wan-suh's collection of short stories God Saw All That...And It Was Very Good. I read mostly nonfiction in English but like fiction in other languages because the character development gives me a window to the souls of the people who speak the language of the novel or short story. The variety of characters, settings, and events makes reading a collection of short stories or an anthology the next best thing to living in a culture as a native.

At 5:09 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I wish that I had your linguistic skills, Sonagi, but I guess that I'll have to leave to my wife and kids that personal knowledge of Korean culture.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:25 AM, OpenID sonagi92 said...

Did you read much fiction in German or any other languages you've learned?

At 8:35 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, I started reading Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, which happened to bring me and Sun-Ae together, but I then no longer had time to read it because my life became so full.

Mostly, I've just used my languages for research.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today was the first time I ever heard of Park Wan Suh. It seems you really liked this book. I'm sure there must be many talented native writers in the ROK. But as I do not read much fiction anymore, even if it is part autobiographical, I do not go out of my way to search for fine books. It was very different when I used to live by a certain Telegraph Avenue, which featured along its aisle numerous book stores, some even featuring book readings.

I'll try to track this book down later this year.

I guess the one contemporary Korean literary talent I have read is 고은, who was once a visiting professor at our school. I read a bit of his a while ago while I was tracking down translations of popular Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese poems. You can even find translations of some of his poems on the net.

Have you read him? And if so, what did you think? I am not familiar with how poetry works in the Korean language.


At 7:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I have read some of Ko Un's poetry, translated by Brother Anthony, but I have difficulty getting into poetry in translation.

I'm really rather limited, I guess . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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