Marlene Dietrich famously sang of still having a suitcase in Berlin, a wistful testament to the evocative power of memory and the hold that people and places can have on us. In many ways the unnamed Korean female narrator in Bae Suah’s novella A Greater Music has left her own suitcase in the German capital, one packed with scraps of memories from a broken intimate relationship with an older German woman and the morning-after emotions that surface when reflecting on a life lived elsewhere.
If Mannequin is any evidence, Ch’oe Yun is a writer’s writer. This 2003 novel, only now released in English translation, is a dreamlike reflection on beauty and human existence.
Both challenging and subtle in construction, the novel deals in impressions rather than plot. The story, to which atmosphere clings like mist on a hillside, centers around Jini, a young (teenage) advertising model and the mannequin of the title. A commercial success, she has been been used to promote products since she was a baby, lifting her family out of poverty in the process. Cherished yet controlled, she finally throws it all over and runs away.
Last year, Korean literature burst into English-language consciousness when Han Kang’s The Vegetarian won the Man Booker International Prize. The process began earlier, of course: Kyung-sook Shin had won the Man Asian Literary Prize a few years previously. But this is nevertheless a phenomenon of relatively recent vintage.
Not everyone can be a Han Kang, and there aren’t many major literary prizes which take works in translation, so it’s a good thing that Dalkey Archive Press is plugging with away with translations of other important Korean writers.
Discussions on the so-called “rise” of China at some point tend to cycle ’round to the question as to whether these developments are new or instead herald a return to a status quo ante, a consideration which depends in no small part as what that status quo actually was. That China was dominant in East Asia at least until the 19th century is subject to hardly any debate; there is less consensus as to what that dominance consisted of and whence it derived.
Apart from on the Peninsula itself and in the vernacular, the Korean War is framed by a chronology between June 1950 and July 1953. Su-kyoung Hwang’s Korea’s Grievous War challenges that common perception by pushing its opening salvos back to shortly after the Peninsula’s liberation from Japanese colonial occupation in August 1945.
Anthony Giddens and Martin Wolf in London, Thomas Friedman in Washington, Saskia Sassen in New York, John Meyer and Manuel Castells in California … nearly all of the best-known writers on globalization come from the parts of the world that are doing the globalizing, not from the places that are getting globalized.
In Global Exposure in East Asia, Taiwanese sociologist Ming-Chang Tsai tells the story from the other side. People in China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan have been on the front lines of globalization as waves of economic and social change washed over East Asia.