Dongmi Hwang reviews The Last of Hanak’o (하나코는 없다) by Ch’oe Yun (최윤)

the last of hanak'oCh’oe Yun’s short story The Last of Hanak’o is published bi-lingually by Asia Publishers.

Ch’oe has been described by critics as an author who focuses on the internal state of her characters rather than the external events that may have shaped them. The original Korean title “하나코는 없다” (literally Hanak’o isn’t here) might some insight into Ch’oe’s purpose behind writing this story.

The narrator in The Last of Hanak’o is an everyman who travels to Venice. He is middle aged, married, in business, and most importantly – flawed .To make it even easier to step into his shoes (or make him an everyman), the narrator is stripped of any individuality by Ch’oe who doesn’t name him. In fact, she doesn’t name his friends either. Instead she uses only capital letters to refer to each character except Hanak’o. The nameless protagonist wanders around Venice in a dreamlike state, visiting famous landmarks, witnessing a street fight, and constantly reflecting on his past friendship with a woman nicknamed Hanak’o.

From the beginning of the book to the end Hanak’o isn’t actually there. Who she is? Why she is important? The answers are up to the reader to decide. That friend that always supports from the sideline but is always forgotten on birthdays and events. Who are they? Are they not important?

The narrator, like many people, had a friend that he spent time with, even confided in, but who remained on the fringes of the social circle. Also like many people, this is the one friend whom he did not really value with the level of sincerity that he should have. This friend is Hanak’o. There is a falling out between them that the narrator is very unwilling to reveal but eventually does. Despite great anticipation, this falling out turns out to be an incident that can barely be called an incident.
In the same way Virginia Woolf wrote about the individual in a post war British society, Ch’oe writes to exemplify a person’s internal state of being in a post war Korean society. When reading her writing it is important to view everything through the veil of historical events. Just as Korean society was in upheaval after the Korean war, so is Ch’oe’s character, he struggles to make sense of Hanak’o, both the person and the events that he can’t understand.
The actual events that take place in The Last of Hanak’o are rather insignificant. It is the individual’s reaction to those events that Ch’oe describes with great literary skill and accuracy which makes her writing worth the read.