Se-oh Yun—a reclusive young woman in her twenties— comes home to a fire in her apartment in which her father is badly injured. He dies shortly after the incident and the police are eager to close the case as a simple suicide motivated by her father’s debts. But Se-oh suspects foul play when she learns that a debt collector, Su-ho, had visited her father earlier that day.

A Korean nonagenarian learns on the news that the last remaining “comfort woman” is on her deathbed. The narrator, unnamed until the end of the book, is determined to meet this last victim: she wants to know if she knew the woman from 70 years earlier. She also wants to assure her that she’s not in fact the last one left. The narrator has never told anyone about her past—not even her siblings and their children; it’s finally a chance to talk about it.

Tragedy finds its ideal form when a good character is partially responsible for her own downfall, which should unfold with the slow and inexorable force of a moral sentencing. Or so said Aristotle. Likewise, an irresistible blend of pity, horror, and satisfaction emerges through each of Ha Seong-nan’s short stories in this new collection. Even if not all of Ha’s characters are “good”, they still prove to be pitifully wretched creatures.

Nonlocal, or Youth and Night, Christophe Bolduc (Gymnasia Press, July 2020)
Nonlocal, or Youth and Night, Christophe Bolduc (Gymnasia Press, July 2020)

Concerning education, Nietzsche asked, “How can the individual be integrated into the counterpoint of private and public culture; how can he both sing the melody and simultaneously make it the accompaniment?” At its core, this is the same question that Nonlocal explores.

The Korean Vernacular Story: Telling Tales of Contemporary Chosŏn in Sinographic Writing, Si Nae Park (Columbia University Press, August 2020)
The Korean Vernacular Story: Telling Tales of Contemporary Chosŏn in Sinographic Writing, Si Nae Park (Columbia University Press, August 2020)

As the political, economic, and cultural center of Chosŏn Korea, eighteenth-century Seoul epitomized a society in flux: It was a bustling, worldly metropolis into which things and people from all over the country flowed. In this book, Si Nae Park examines how the culture of Chosŏn Seoul gave rise to a new vernacular narrative form that was evocative of the spoken and written Korean language of the time.