Wayfarer: New Fiction by Korean Women, edited and translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton
A collection of postwar short stories ranging from the 50s to now. All deal with the isolation and stultified domestic place within which South Korean women still struggle for identity, enrichment and meaning. The introduction puts much of this writing in context, and informs about certain classifications of Korean modern literature, including pundan munhak, a body of work that deals with the territorial division of Korea and divided families, the anti-Communist campaigns for which the “sins of the father” ruined the careers and hopes of two generations. Out of this theme came one of the two strongest stories in this collection (which may seem strong due to this Westernized reader): Kim Min-suk’s “Scarlet Fingernails,” about a daughter who visits her father given a day’s furlough to celebrate his hwang-ap from a life prison sentence–a man whom she never met who refuses to recant his visit to the north. What’s fascinating is that the story turns out to be less concerned with the daughter than with the mother, his wife, who though she doesn’t visit him, prepares special soup and then has her own private party at home with the old ladies in the complex. The other compelling tale was a NYC immigrant story by Kim Chi-won, “Almaden,” about a liquor store owner, the disaffected wife of a cold husband, who fantasizes about a man who buys the same wine every day for years. This collection speaks to the internal lives of modern Korean women and how they struggle for dignity in a culture that sees women best as martyrs, wives and mothers.