Kim Mi-wol‘s What Has Yet to Happen is an unusual and clever “end of the world” story: There is no Bruce Willis character to save the day; there is no spaceship to hop on and escape; in fact there is not even much in the way of panic. The initial reaction of people in this book is to continue on in the path of their daily lives, as though today will lead to tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow. The narrator’s most important initial thought is that she will not have to pay for her smartphone anymore, and life outside, while slightly changed (the bus is free, there is discussion of conspiracy, the narrator finally talks to her neighbor, soju is amusingly described as “a painless death”), just seems to go on.
The narrator awakens, hungover and with peaches in her bag. On Friday afternoon KTLIT met with Kim during which time she told us that this was based on a real story – a friend of Kim’s who hated peaches woke up one morning, with no memory of the night before, and a can of peaches in her purse. From this sliver Kim somehow constructed What Has Yet to Happen.
The narrator has, in her own life, already thought of (in a college essay) what she would do if the world ended, she would find the man she loved and confess her love, yet she too, goes about her life, wondering where she got the peaches from and arranging a meeting with Kong (a friend with whom she was drinking the night before to return them.
Kim is an amusing writer, the final scene is kind of an ironic joke, and the story is laced with humorous characters; snake oil-salesmen, delivery men, bus drivers, and there is even a sort of set piece in which Kong and the narrator try to figure out who is most likely to be upset the world is ending (e.g. that person who had planned to have their braces off). This “matter of fact”, super-light and funny writing style has the surprising effect of making a reader believe that the end of the world is ‘just another day. Obviously, the books is about our personal journeys (towards death, of course) as well as the fate of the earth and when the final ironic twist is revealed and the narrator notes that “it could have been so easy” it seems that she, and Kim, are making a comment about how to live life, and the fact that, with 14 hours to go, she and Kong are enjoy a can of tasty peaches also seems to be suggesting that we live life with enjoyment and recognizing the simple pleasures we have been given. And that, some day, we will die and it will, in fact, be ‘just another day.’
As I read this book I thought it would make an awesome script for a dark comedy (Kim also talked about another work she has had translated, Vertigo, in which an accurate soothsayer’s constitutional inability to spell correctly wreaks havoc, which also seemed to brim with humorous possibilities), though fully Western style readers should be warned that other than the impending “end” which the book is talking about, the story itself, does not have a conventional ending.
Still, What Has Yet to Happen is immediately up in the Park Min-gyu/Park Hyoung-su category of thoughtful writers who take on hard topics in light fashion, and this is on of the excellent ASIA Publishers collection that I can recommend to pretty much anyone.
9) The title is a statement, not a question, any particular meaning to this? Because the story ends with so many questions unanswered, even unasked, this seems like an interesting choice.