Monday, December 21, 2009

Acta Koreana, Volume 12, Number 2 (December 2009): Review of Park Wan-suh

Acta Koreana
Vol 12, Nr 2, Dec 2009
(Image from Seoul Selection)

I've recently received notice -- and hard copy -- of a book review that I wrote for Acta Koreana:
Who Ate Up All the Shinga?
By Park Wan-suh. Translated by Yu Young-nan and Stephen Epstein.
Horace Jeffery Hodges 229–234
To whet the appetite of those with faint hunger, here's the opening to my six-page review:
Park Wan-suh: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl

(Review of Who Ate Up All the Shinga?)

Horace Jeffery Hodges

Ewha Womans University

"O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race."
- James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

1. Introduction

Although a highly respected and very popular writer in her native Korea, Park Wan-suh is less well known in the English-speaking world, but that relative anonymity is gradually changing, and will surely continue to do so with this excellent translation by Yu Young-nan and Stephen J. Epstein of the autobiographical 'novel' Who Ate Up All the Shinga?, which tells Park's story from her earliest memories of life in a tiny agricultural hamlet, through her elementary school years of Japanese education in Seoul, on through the uncertainty of WWII and the immediate post-liberation years, and finally into the horrors of the Korean War, all of which she speaks on as a voice of conscience.

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 informs otherwise. In the penultimate paragraph of the final chapter, significantly titled "Epiphany," the bewildered and frightened Park finds herself and her family caught up in the wartime chaos, confronted with the threat of the South’s imminent reoccupation by Communist forces, and trapped in an utterly abandoned Seoul, 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. Five extended experiences, which can be only briefly outlined here, contributed toward her early development as a literary artist, a process that the literary critic Kyeong-Hee Choi has elsewhere described as "A Portrait of the Artist as a Little Girl."
Those interested in reading the entire review will need to go to the Acta Koreana website and order a hard copy . . . though if you search for Park Wan-suh on this blog, you'll find many of my ideas worked out through various entries.

Tomorrow, back to my regular blogging . . .

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