“dd’s Umbrella” by Hwang Jungeun

Hwang Jungeun Hwang Jungeun

Examining the omnipresence of grief and revolution in South Korea for women and the queer community, as well as the whole nation after the sinking of the MV Sewol in April 2014, Hwang Jungeun’s dd’s Umbrella presents twin novellas from the perspective of two distinct narrators.

The first story, simply titled “d”, follows a gender-nonconforming character named d as they navigate tragic events, from the sudden death of their partner dd to the Sewol ferry disaster that left 300 dead. “There Is Nothing that Needs to Be Said”, the subsequent story, is told from the first-person perspective of Kim Soyoung, a writer who follows every new development related to the Sewol ferry, continues to attend protests to bring justice for its victims even two years after the tragedy and consequently struggles to draw up a story that has a joyful ending.


dd’s Umbrella, Hwang Jungeun, E Yaeown (trans) (Tilted Axis, February 2024)
dd’s Umbrella, Hwang Jungeun, e yaewon (trans) (Tilted Axis, February 2024)

By utilizing a third-person narrator in “d” and a first-person narrator in “There Is Nothing that Needs to Be Said,” Hwang communicates different viewpoints and reactions to the national disaster, conveying the various effects it had on the citizens of South Korea. The narrator who tells d’s story becomes a distinct character possessing personal opinions as Hwang omits quotation marks when presenting dialogue. A crowd of protestors chant:


Scrap the Sewol Bill.
Scrap the Sewol Bill.
Step Down Park Geun-hye.
Salvage Sewol Ferry Now.


Because of the lack of quotation marks to signify speech, it seems as though the narrator states these phrases along with the protestors, advocating for justice together with them.

Kim Soyoung’s narration in the second novella is also significant, as the constant mentioning of the date and time, such as the first chapter beginning with “It is past noon,” allows the story to be read as journal entries. The concept of narration seems to be of significance to Kim Soyoung, as she mentions that her partner Seo Sookyung has “yet to bore me as a narrator even after twenty years,” and wonders how Seo Sookyung would “explain ourselves,” or “explain that today was today”. This idea that certain days are nonchalantly lived through and therefore difficult to illustrate in words while others are cherished and come to hold significance makes the question “how will today be remembered?” haunt Kim Soyoung.


Almost as an answer to the question, Hwang emphasizes inanimate objects in both novellas to convey that certain days, as well as people, can be recalled through them. When d encounters a record player and hears the first notes of an Elvis Presley song, they are transported back to a Christmas day they spent with dd, where they treated themselves to “a lavish dinner”, “expensive wine” and “a big cake studded with fruits stewed in syrup” while listening to the radio which was playing Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender”. Hearing the song again after dd’s death, d asks where they can get one of these “machines that let you hear this type of music.” Even though they aren’t a big fan of how Elvis Presley “wailed his songs,” d wants to hear the song again and again, to own a record-playing sound system of their own to remember dd and the delightful Christmas evening they had together.

In line with the idea of remembering through objects, Kim Sonyoung recalls a conversation between her and Seo Sookyung:


Give me a bone.
A bone?
In case you die first.
What good is a bone?
I want it as a keepsake.
Okay. You can have two if you want.
Don’t you want one of mine?
Nah, I don’t need one.
Why not? Why don’t you want one of mine?
What good is it if you’re already dead?
Still. Take one.


Hwang draws up stories of the prevalence of mourning, both anticipatory and ongoing, and on a personal and national scale. The novellas communicate how today could be easily forgotten or come to be immensely meaningful, but will be lived either way.

dd’s Umbrella presents the uncertainty of life and the ever-presence of grief and discrimination to ultimately communicate the importance of showing up for others, to offer them space under an umbrella when it’s raining.