Dong Mei Reviews Shin Kyung-Sook’s “Where the Harmonium Was”

Shin Kyung-sook


Dong Mei’s review might be compared to Charles Montgomery’s, which can be found here.

A woman writing a letter. A simple premise for Shin Kyung-sook’s short story The Place Where the Harmonium Was. A woman writing a letter to her lover who already has a wife and children. The circumstances of their relationship are backed into rather than revealed by the heroine. The letter is how she copes with her guilt. Not only guilt over the affair but also over leaving him. Her thoughts ebb and flow with memories of her childhood, giving us more insight into why she became a mistress and why she is now relinquishing that place.

In this short story Shin Kyung-sook’s writing is beautiful. The plot itself is actually distasteful to me because it deals with infidelity which on a personal level I can’t help but dislike. However, there is no way to read Shin’s story without developing some sympathy and empathy for all of her characters, regardless of how distasteful their actions. There is no judgement passed on their actions, only explanations offered which allows the reader to form their own opinion nicely
Shin’s style in this story is very similar to the western style of stream of consciousness writing. Obviously it differs because there is an intended audience since it is meant to be a letter. Still, there is a similar feel because the woman’s mind is disorganized and she is unable to convey her feelings in a logical order, rather she writes indiscriminately the things that come to mind.
This story is not distinctly korean in its style or plot. Sure the countryside setting has elements of the third world but ultimately being korean has nothing to do with it at all. Instead, The Place Where the Harmonium Was is universally appealing and can be understood beyond culture.