Kim Seung-Ok’s (김승옥) Record of a Journey to Mujin (무진기행), is a cross between a high-school reunion and a tale of multiple star-crossed lovers. It begins prosaically, with a man on the bus on the way back to his hometown of Mujin. Mujin is not a real town in Korea, as far as I can tell, and is also the fictional setting of Crucible (도가니), by Gong Ji-young, though I suspect there is no particular connection.
Our narrator is an administrator with a pharmaceutical company, on vacation from work while his wife and bosses work on his promotion. Mujin makes him come up with ideas, but also lessens his confidence, for reasons that likely have to do with his childhood, during which he was hid in a lumber room, alone and masturbating, in his mother’s efforts to keep him from being impressed in the army.
As he travels is doing nothing in particular, but musing and eavesdropping on two agricultural specialists of some kind who are struggling manfully (for they are both men) to figure out what Mujin’s ‘representative crop is. Anyone who has lived in Korea for very long will recognize this very Korean tendency (this tendency has also been notably lampooned in Ch’oe Yun’s The Flower with 13 Fragrances).
Finally they laugh and declare it to be fog.
And, of course, this sets the tone, both geographically and symbolically, for when the narrator arrives in Mujin, it seems that everyone is blinded by some kind of fog.
He gets to Mujin and is bored. A teacher friend of his, Mr. Pak, takes the narrator to the house of Mr. Cho, the only other “success” from their school. At the house is Miss Ha, a schoolteacher who has been assigned to Mujin from outside of it. As the story develops, a twisted semi-love-triangle is revealed, and the narrator, despite his marriage to a rich widow, inserts himself to make it a love-quadrangle.
The fog comes and goes, and semi-nasty interpersonal relationships between alleged friends are explored. Miss Ha wants to go to Seoul with the narrator, the narrator, bored with his financially successful marriage is extremely interested, and as the story grows close to its end, and the narrator is called back early, decisions have to be made.
It’s an interesting story in how it combines the ennui (fog) of small town life with emotional lives at cross-purposes and stunted. This story was originally published in Home-Coming And Other Korean Short Stories, at which time I said:
Record of a Journey to Mujin, is the least impressive of Kim’s work here, as the story is mundane, its writing style blank and its story oddly inconclusive. At 42 pages, it is also the longest story in the collection. Of course^^ because that’s what I believe, internet research indicates that not only is it fairly beloved in Korea, but has also been made into a successful movie. In any case, it is the story of a love triangle temporarily rendered a love quadrangle by the arrival of the narrator back at his home town, and the story is quite lyrical in places.
LOL… an opinion I have reversed.
Paperback: 131 Pages
Publisher: ASIA Publishers (2012)
NOTE ABOUT THE COLLECTION
There are actually three collections here, “Bi-lingual Edition Modern Korean Literature Volume One”, Volume Two, and Volume Three has just been published. The collections are of 15 small volumes each, and each collection is broken into topics with the first collections comprising Division, Industrialization, and Women; the second comprising Liberty, Love, and North/South, and; the third collection comprising Seoul, Tradition, and Avant Garde
In addition, each story comes with a kind of critical summary, several bits of critical analysis, and a biography of the author. When these pieces are put together, it makes the stories much easier to read, as the necessary cultural and historical background is neatly presented to the reader.