Review of “Traversing Afternoon” (오후 기로지르다) by Ha Seong-nan (하성란) – 4.5 Bottles of Soju!

traversingThis only gets 4.5 because she’s got a better one behind her (Waxen Wings, the title short story of the recent collection Waxen Wings, which is currently the best short collection of Korean fiction for the casual reader).

But it is a doozy that manages to combine the idea of life as a hopeless maze (where IS my cheese?), the cheesy charm of the fake individualism of “flair” in Office Space, and a kind of surrealistic writing topping (don’t worry, it won’t obscure the main point) with and end that is a vision of death, or perhaps, if you wish, ascension. It can be read as a kind of gloss or opposite of Yi Sang’s The Wings, in which you stand high, looking down, turning the world into a similar rat race, the only questions being how you as ascend, descend, or escape (again this works well with her other published work,  “Waxen Wings” which painfully and beautifully explores the pain and dangers of hoping and striving).

Traversing Afternoon is a vision of urban life as exemplified by the cubicle farm, which, within the context of story is actually a kind of improvement of the previous system in which anonymity was painfully public. It combines lost loves, initially inexplicable, but eventually clear and hopeless, with the meaninglessness caused when “real” relationships are gone. There is one too-obvious symbol in the middle, but other than that it is a brilliant piece of work, the brilliance of which is that as it goes on, it actually sucks ALL the light out of life, starting at the edges and working in towards YOUR cubicle.

So.. yeah.. I’m raving about this book, like Akeldema and many other stories in this collection it is brilliant, modern, and surprising…

And guess what?

You cant’ find it on Amazon by name. WTF is up with this??? The whole series has related problems. Here is the search for the book by name:

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The good news? You want to buy the entire collection anyway – it’s much cheaper than by the book, and only one of out 45 books (so far) has been a disappointment.

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But goddamit Korean literature – can’t you get your sh*t together enough that people can find and buy your books? You’re killing me here


Anyway..  Traversing Afternoon, buy it! Better, buy all four of the sets…^^

• Series: Bi-lingual Edition Modern Korean Literature, Volume 32
• Paperback: 108 pages (includes bilingual text, biography, criticism and summary)
• Publisher: Asia Publishers (2013)
• Language: English and Korean
• ISBN-Set: 978-89-94006-94-9
• ISBN-Book:  978-89-94006-96-3

There are actually four collections here, “Bi-lingual Edition Modern Korean Literature Volume One”, Volume Two, Volume Three, and volume Four 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 (can’t say about the fourth collection as I haven’t yet seen it)
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.