Spanning almost half a century of contemporary writing in Korea (from the 1970s to the present), The Future of Silence brings together some of the most accomplished twentieth-century women writers with a new generation of young, bold voices. Their work takes us into the homes, families, lives, and psyches of Korean women, men, and children.
Pak Wan-sŏ, at the time of her passing the elder stateswoman of contemporary Korean fiction, opens the door into two “Identical Apartments” where neighbors, bound as much by competition as friendship, struggle to “keep up with the Kims” as they transition from life in an extended family to a new nuclear-family lifestyle in a sterile apartment complex. O Chŏng-hŭi, who has been compared to Joyce Carol Oates and Alice Munro, examines a day in the life of a woman recently released from a mental institution, while younger writers, such as Kim Sagwa, Han Yujoo, and Ch’ŏn Un-yŏng explore psychosis, literary experimentation, and bi-racial childhood. These stories will sometimes disturb and sometimes delight, as they illuminate complex issues in Korean life and literature. Internationally acclaimed translators Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton have won several awards and fellowships for the numerous works of modern Korean fiction they have translated into English.
O Chŏng-hŭi was born in Seoul in 1947 and studied creative writing at the Sŏrabŏl College of Fine Arts. She made her literary debut in 1968 with “Wangujŏm yŏin” (trans. 2012 “The Toyshop Woman”), an original and remarkably mature story that she began writing as a teenager. She subsequently received the Yi Sang Literature Prize in 1979 for “Chŏnyŏg ŭi keim” (trans. 1989 “Evening Game”) and the Tongin Literature Prize in 1982 for “Tonggyŏng” (trans. 2007 “The Bronze Mirror”). O has written excellent coming-of-age stories, such as “Chunggugin kŏri” (1979, trans. 1989 “Chinatown”), “Yunyŏn ŭi ttŭl (1980, trans. in part 2005 “Garden of My Childhood”), and Sae (1995, trans. 2007 The Bird), and intertextual stories such as “Chingnyŏ” (trans. 2011 “Weaver Woman”), which echoes the folktale of the herder boy and the weaver girl; “Mongnyŏnch’o” (1975, trans. 2012 “A Portrait of Magnolias”), which includes a retelling of the Ch’ŏyong legend, and “Pullori” (1987, trans. 2012 “Fireworks”), which begins with a recounting of the Koguryŏ foundation myth. In the latter stories O, like several other contemporary Korean fiction writers, connects strongly with Korean tradition, investing her stories with archetypes found in myth, legend, and folktale. “Wayfarer” (Sullyeja ŭi norae) first appeared in the October 1983 issue of Munhak sasang [literature and thought].
Kim Chi-wŏn (1943–2013) was born in Kyŏnggi Province and studied English literature at Ehwa University in Seoul. She was the daughter of Ch’oe Chŏng-hŭi and the elder sister of Kim Ch’ae-wŏn, both important writers in their own right. She began publishing fiction in the 1970s after she moved to the New York metropolitan area, where she lived off and on until her death. In 1997 she received the Yi Sang Literature Prize for “Premonitions of Love” [sarang ŭi yegam]. “Almaden” [Almaden] first appeared in September 1979 in Hanguk munhak [Korean literature].
Sŏ Yŏng-ŭn was born in 1943 in Kangnŭng, Kangwŏn Province, and studied English literature at Kŏnguk University in Seoul. She began publishing fiction in the late 1960s. A good introduction to her work is the collection How to Cross a Desert (Samag ŭl kŏnnŏnŭn pŏp, 1978). “Dear Distant Love” [mŏn kŭdae] first appeared in Hanguk munhak in May 1983 and was honored with that year’s Yi Sang Literature Prize.
Pak Wan-sŏ (1931–2011) was born in Kaep’ung, Kyŏnggi Province. Like millions of other Koreans she was bereaved of family members during the Korean War. For almost twenty years she endured these tragedies, raising five children in the process, before finally giving voice to her experiences in the novel Namok (1970, trans. 1995 The Naked Tree). She wrote profusely over the next four decades, focusing in turn on wartime trauma (“Puch’ŏnim kŭnch’ŏ” [1973, trans. 2009 “In the Realm of the Buddha”]), the ideological and territorial division of the Korean peninsula (“Kyŏul ladŭri” [1975, trans. 2007 “Winter Outing”]), the emerging middle-class lifestyle in Seoul (“Pukkŭrŏum ŭl karŭch’imnida” [1974, trans. 2011 “We Teach Shame!”]), and changing women’s roles and self-perceptions (“Chippogi nŭn kŭrŏke kŭnnatta” [1978, trans. 1999 “Thus Ended My Days of Watching over the House”]). Toward the end of her career her writing became more overtly autobiographical: Kŭ mantŏn shinga nŭn nu ka ta mŏgŏssŭlkka (trans. 2009, Who Ate Up All the Shinga) is one of her most engaging book-length works. “Identical Apartments” [talmŭn pang tŭl] first appeared in Wŏlgan chungang [Chungang monthly] in June 1974.
Kong Sŏn-ok was born in Koksŏng, South Chŏlla Province, in 1963, and studied Korean literature at Chŏnnam National University. She debuted in 1991 in Ch’angjak kwa pip’yŏng [creation and criticism] and has since published short story collections, novels, and children’s stories. Among the awards she has received are the Manhae Literature Prize and the O Yŏng-su Literature Prize. “The Flowering of Our Lives” [Uri saengae ŭi kkot] was first published in May 1994 in Munhak sasang.
Han Yujoo was born in Seoul in 1982 and studied German literature at Hongik University. In 2014 she completed an MA in Aesthetics at Seoul National University. Thus far she has published three story collections and a novel, Pulganŭnghan tonghwa, (2013, [the impossible fairy tale]). “I Ain’t Necessarily So” [Na nŭn p’ilgyŏng…] first appeared in summer 2009 in Munhak kwa sahoe [literature and society].
Kim Sagwa was born in Seoul in 1984 and studied creative writing at the Korean National University of Arts. She is the author of four novels and two story collections. “It’s One of Those the-More-I’m-in-Motion-the-Weirder-It-Gets Days and It’s Really Blowing My Mind” (Umjigimyŏn umjigilsurok isanghan il i pŏrŏjinŭn onŭl ŭn ch’am ŭro shingihan nal ida) was first published in the Spring 2010 issue of Chaŭm kwa moŭm [consonant and vowel] and was short-listed for the 2011 Young Writers Prize, sponsored by the Munhak Tongne publishing house.
Ch’ŏn Un-yŏng was born in Seoul in 1971 and studied communications at Hanyang University and creative writing at Seoul Arts University. She has published four collections of stories and two novels. “Ali Skips Rope” [alli ŭi chullŏmki] first appeared in the Winter 2007 issue of Segye ŭi munhak [World literature].
Kim Ae-ran was born in 1980 in Inch’ŏn, Kyŏnggi Province, and raised in Sŏsan, South Ch’ungch’ŏng Province. She studied playwriting at the Korean National University of Arts. Since her debut in 2002 she has published three story collections and a novel. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2013 Yi Sang Literature Prize for “The Future of Silence” [ch’immuk ŭi mirae].