Review: “The Future of Silence, Fiction by Korean Women”

The Future of SilenceThe Future of Silence, is a sparkling collection of nine stories by notable female Korean authors. The book was translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton, and is over 50% stories that were originally published in Wayfarer: New Fiction by Korean Women, which is currently out of print, although available on Amazon.To five of the eight original stories, the Fulton’s have added four new works. The collection covers three generations, from the venerated Park Wan-suh to up-and-comers like Kim Sagwa,

The collection is brilliant. It covers the fraught position of women in Korea without indulging in any of the flat “woman in inexplicably bored and can’t find her position in society and is grumpy and likely single or unhappy in her relationship” (e.g. Kim Ae-ran’s Christmas Specials, or Bae Suah’s Green Apples). In fact, even in extremely difficult situations, some of the female narrators here carry on with extraordinary will and outlook. In this book I Ain’t Necessarily So is a bit of trifling and Dear Distant Love is a bit too traditional of a “wronged woman” Korean narrative for my taste, but I imagine it is spot-on for other readers.

As always, the introduction by the Fulton’s is worth the price of admission by itself, an admirably succinct and clear examination of the historical role of female writers from their traditional exclusion in the field to their remarkable representation today.

But it is the stories that shine. Park Wan-suh’s (The Fulton’s use McCune–Reischauer Romanization, I prefer Revised Romanization of Koreanor any preference the author has indicated) Identical Apartments remains a chillingly classic appraisal of the Korean rat-race for women, and how it homogenizes their lives nearly out of existence.Two stories, O Chon-hui’s Wayfarer and Kim Sagwa’s It’s One of Those the-more-I’m-in-Motion-the-Weirder-it-Gets Days, and It’s Really Blowing My Mind, are brutal in two entirely different ways, but nonetheless excellent reading. Kim Chi-won’s Almaden and Cheon Un-yeong’s delightful, Ali Skips Rope examine the positions of two outsiders in society. Kong Seon-ok contributes The Flowering of our Lives, a kind of Korean buddy-story between two unlikely allies navigating difficult relationship/familial circumstances with soju and sisterhood. The collection is concluded by Kim Ae-ran’s excellent and extremely modernist The Future of Silence, which in increasingly surreal form, celebrates the “vitality and dynamism” which an increasingly modern world snuffs out without intent or understanding.

For lovers of minutia, the three stories that have been cut are:

Human Decency by Gong Ji Young
Scarlett Fingernails by Kim Min-suk
Ch’oe Yun’s  The Last of  Hanako

And it is really only Ch’oe’s story that I would argue should still have been included. Still, The Last of Hanako is available in at least two different solo printings, so it can be picked up by an interested reader.

Hats off to Zephyr Press and the Fultons for printing and translating this book. It, along with Questioning Minds, are the two best books of translated Korean fiction written by women, and this book is well worth picking for sheer literary enjoyment (Questioning Minds was a bit of a lecture, particularly in it’s early modern stories).

Pick this one up – Several of the authors have more than one work translated into English, so remember Google and Amazon are your friends!

 

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