Dishonored by Choi Min-Woo, is the 5th work in the ASIA Publishers K-Literature series of bilingual fiction (Korean and English) and it is the closest to a genre work of the pieces printed so far. Yet, it manages to take the “spy genre” if you will, and spill bits of it here and there, while mixing it with a kind of political unrest that is atypical for this kind of work. The work is also extremely politically relevant at this moment, for one of the questions it asks is what acts and information should be carried out or hidden, and for whom?
Dishonored is a spy story with the characters named for colors (ridiculously managing to not to mention Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” in the commentary or – that I could see – give him homage in the text; though it is probably fair enough to say the naming convention is the homage.). Mr. Yellow, who has always been a loyal member of the “information” community is belittled and betrayed at his retirement party, and decides to go rogue, publically admitting all of the crimes, betrayals, and intrigues he is aware of.
This, of course, sets ripples running through his intelligence organization, and Mr. Black is sent to “silence” him. When Mr. Black lands in the country Mr. Yellow is in, he meets Mr. Brown, who has been tracking Mr. Yellow with the plan of making the assassination/abduction (although it seems clear that the organization would prefer the latter) easier to carry off.
Mr. Yellow, however, is a relatively canny fellow, who is well self-protected and while Black and Brown are planning how to catch/kill him, an event occurs in their home country that makes any particular plans suspect, as ongoing political trauma makes it so that no one can guess who will be leading the new “intelligence” community, and how they will see Mr. Yellow, as traitor or as hero.
Choi has Mr. Black reveal some of this in a clever set of phone conversations that never really result in any communication, just a series of stock phrases.
Mr. Brown returns home, leaving Yellow and Black in the foreign country, and Yellow and Black, in a clever reversal, meet when Yellow catches Black. They watch the the political struggle together (on TV) and Black watches Yellow talk to the foreign press about his history and the history of his organization’s operations – which he lays bare, in a kind of protective way.
At the same time, now back home, Mr. Brown has also made his decision, and also appears on TV discussing it (I will leave it to the reader to find out what Mr. Brown decides to do)
Mr. Black is left in a peculiar position of reporting what he is doing, but not being exactly sure who he will end up reporting to or which “side” his is, or should be, on. Finally, in a situation in which there is not certainty, and who will declared winner and loser is not clear. Mr. Black feels called upon to make his own decision about what to do.
The “commentary” after the story refers to the final decision of Mr. Black as “Kantian,” which seems a bit odd as the moral imperative of Mr. Black’s decision seems a bit unclear to me (unless being pissed off counts as a moral imperative – and also let’s never underestimate my lack of understanding of philosophy!), but, Dishonored itself is cleverly written to put into question, in a few short pages, what is morally imperative, and ask the very non-Kantian question, do circumstances change moral imperatives (a question to which Kant would answer a sturdy “no”).
Almost light-hearted for a spy-novella, this is the least consequential of the five K-Fiction pieces published yet, and yet I can recommend it just for that reason – as a reader passes through this work, the reader will likely find themselves alongside Mr. Black, trying to decide what the heck should be done.
In that respect it is worth noting that the Korean title is “Scorpion of Iberia,” referring to either a medieval predecessor to a crossbow, or to a long-held belief (footnoted in the book) that the Iberian Scorpion, when surrounded with fire or burning to death, would kill itself with its own sting. If, as the book suggests, that is the meaning of the title, the last paragraph of Dishonored takes on a sinister ambiguity, that will allow a reader to decide both what has happened and what is likely to happen next.
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