Tag Archive | Short story

Words of Farewell: Stories by Korean Women Writers – Kang Sok-Kyong, Kim Chi-won, Oh Jung-hee

Words of Farewell: Stories by Korean Women Writers

Women writers. Women penning the trials and tribulations of being a woman. The pen and ink bidding farewell to the prevailing apprehensions. The spoken language of an individual narrowed by gender hierarchy labouring in relative anonymity, women write, knocking down the heavily guarded patriarchal gates of a traditional society , the defining emergence diminishing the glaring divide of public from domestic life, where men reigned the former and women the latter. How does one designate the essence of being a woman? How does one quote a chapter and verse from the consequential book of womanhood? Women who have conventionally been beheld as someone’s daughter, someone’s wife and someone’s mother; their own individual identity lapsing into being a mere legal signature on few sheets of paper. How does one then define the constitution of Korean women? Or can you? Women who are as diverse as the land itself spanning through generations, cultural edifications and numerous personal and societal evolutions seeking an autonomy to their existence in an overwhelming patriarchal world. How does one ever answer the unwelcomed question of signifying the autonomy of womanhood? The patriarchal advocacy of literature, the very notion of belles- lettres being the prime avocation of cultural gentlemen, the adversities of gender discrepancies shadowing the laboured efforts of women writers derides the valid declaration of talent having no gender whatsoever. The contemporary Korean women writers (three of whom being mentioned in this book) bring forth an notable insight to the strenuous effort of their emergence from a society profoundly influenced by the Confucian precepts, finally breaking out from their obscurities. The undying spirit of their penned narrative, the meticulous characterization, accomplish a sophisticated sensory faculty of symbolism sketching the evolution of Korean women in a rapidly modernized world


“……to accept our own lives, and without such thoughts to make us feel good, how could we live? We women were facing up to life with our bodies as our only asset. We may now have smelled like roses, but we got to learn all about life and freedom in our way…..”

The picturesque forsythias blooming on a palace walls, the beauty of scenic spring stretching on a wall calendar in a clinic testing venereal diseases befits the stark revelation of a social world where days and dreams brim with the futility of a traumatic past and the aspirations of striving for a dignified existence. Kang Sŏk-kyŏng allegorizes the social status of prostitutes surviving on the U.S. military base in Korea, to a drifting isolated island, a temporary home destined to subsist in loneliness of abandonment. The slight flicker of hope within melancholia is the hallmark of their lives which struggle to find a haven of freedom and integrity. In the endless fight for human dignity, their bodies become the sole measure of self-defence, a path to their freedom however despicable. The marginal women thriving on the societal periphery seek comfort among their ilk, the labelling of “leftovers” a crude irony, in a world where men carry the burden and the badge of brutal enforcers. The rebellion and restraints to freedom, personal choices of women shackled by archaic ethos stretches afar from the Korean peninsula into the male-dominance of the Western world, applying universality factor to the predicament of women sexuality condemned to abhorrence. “But if two women see eye to eye, there’s no law that says they can’t live together,” said Toma.” So what if they’re lesbians? People live the way they want to. And so what if we’re whore? Except for worrying about money, it’s great living around the base. No husband to treat us rough, no kids to worry us, no one interfering with us.”

The controversial subject of a woman’s body becoming the weapon for her emancipation edges on the possibility of emotional vulnerabilities and inconspicuous rebellion. Kim Chi-wŏn dwells in to unchartered territories where the society as a whole becomes the source of shame for a woman. The collective chauvinism that safeguards the sanctimonious matrimonial institution rests upon the humiliation of women. The marital sacrosanctity ruthlessly abused under the assumed patriarchate prerogative. Kim Chi-wŏn is scrupulous in rendering the dual state of relationship between a man and a woman , raising a similar yet different issue concerning the life of a Korean woman immigrant in U.S. The quest for a resourceful independence gives Yun-ja a possibility of a certain beginning, a marriage based purely on monetary and legal convenience. The probability and improbability of a ‘real marriage’ immerses in reflections of a financial arrangement, age and divorce. The disconnect of a woman and the society is evident in the final libertine declaration.


“Longing for something to sustain and steady her, the woman nevertheless tended to to doubt the permanence of everything. Do flowers last more than ten day? And floods that look like they’ll sweep the world away are gone in a couple days, aren’t they? But her relief that the world was transitory was tempered by the painful realization that society expected marriage to be the most harmonious of human relationships.”

Transience becomes the most fitting lifeline to despondency. Kim Chi-wŏn is scrupulous in rendering the dual state of relationship between a man and a woman. The nightly mellow lullaby sung a mother is marred by domestic brutality, estrangement and resentment. A clandestine corner in the house tries the patience of a battered wife, the harmony of matrimony crumbling into ashes floating on the cold ghostly waters of a pond nearby. The central themes of hopelessness and self-restraint fade away, yet the predictability of self-reliance is still muddled in impermeable monocracy.


“Like a foolish girl you’re trying to find beyond the world. If you’d only given in a little, you wouldn’t have had to go around butting up against the world; you wouldn’t have had to spill your blood. You would have found that the springtime of life isn’t a chain; it’s a pair of wings.”

The self-restraint of rebellion originating from the conventional mores once again twirls the idea of freedom although being the sweet nectar in a claustrophobic milieu; it is the dawn of justice that brings the sweetest aroma in an acrid life. The fortunate franchise of youth caught amid Marxist ideas and democratic upheaval plunges into an abyss of alienation and confusion. The structural sanctity of filial piety bruised by blatant hypocrisy and customary subordination questions the cogency of an inherited male-dominated hierarchy. The pursuit for individuality resulting in either enforced submission or absolute abandonment; agony being the sole companion of nothingness. As a daughter, is trapped between familial obligations and self-exploration, the youthfulness of a sibling risking the madness of a powerless chaotic soul, the maze of confusion unable to find a sheltered room in the woods. Kang Sŏk-kyŏng once again underlines the crucial adherence factor of meritocracy that stamps its social legitimacy of becoming a societal shrine with its ignorance, narcissistic enforcements and submissive gender protocols.

Alienation is seen as one of the strongest denominator in lives of these female characters perpetually trapped in the polarities of modern and conformist worlds. O Chŏng-hŭi in her literary explorations reveals the torments of estrangement when engulfed with the bleakness of death and impermanence. The stories spun a convoluted web of conflict and acquiescence where choices are imaginary. An evening game is vacated for a pleasurable night with a young lover. The women preoccupied by the melodies of a young mother reminiscence her harried past detached from her present apathy. The daily father-daughter card game echoes the whispers of a mother losing her sanity over the loss of her child, a father waiting for his son and a possible infanticide. O Chŏng-hŭi adroitly frames a sequential persecution in an episodic narrative. The vagueness of death seeps into the comprehensibility of life. The grave stones symbolise the quandary of two women, the former seeking a grave plots for her and her husband and the latter contemplating the rationality of her husband’s dubious absence. The words of farewell scatter the memories of physical departure and vacuousness of physical existence.

Talent has no gender. Creativity does not go picking and choosing its master appropriated on the grammatical gender system dais. Literature has no single definition. The vexing question then arises as to why women are the only ones to be bestowed by such an endearing privilege of their entirety being abbreviated through the myopic primal gender regulations? Sarcasm or anxiety of the patriarchy? These stories of Korean women penned by three remarkable women writers encompassing multifaceted thematic nitty gritty of prostitution, youth, death, generational gap, bigotry, sexuality, love and much more, travel beyond the said geographical panorama depicting the notion of universality, broadening the thematic accessibilities of the female characters chronicling their own future detached from their status as someone’s mother, wife or daughter. In the current ongoing global scenario where women’s rights are easily bargained, a coming of an age story not cracking down on the deliberations of a quintessential teen male, but, a disquieting collage of a young girl matured beyond her naïve years, life impressions swirling around the nauseating chaos of sex, death and poverty in the war ravaged Seoul district bylanes of Chinatown ,call for a response of literary stimuli to view beyond the charcoal coated faces in the classic Bildungsroman ,an empathetic astute listener to the stories of women acutely ingrained in Korean culture ; the innocence of childhood stepping on the onset of womanhood culminating in the pragmatic…“My menstrual flow had begun.”

 

4/5 ♥♥♥♥

Red Night – Duanmu Hongliang

Red Night


Their poor little hearts reached so high
After grapes, they gave peaches a try
After a dragon, the tiger was sought
Then the oriole and the vulture in the sky.

Shh-shh as they flew, their black wings soaring the stirring the winds in dominance. The ospreys oblivious of the humans below soared in the sky, the destiny of the osprey village reasserting the flight of the birds as they inspected the earth below. The mistreated soul possessed with a sense of his own destiny rebelled against the fated dogma. Was Shilong a foolish soul to challenge the birds or was the lazy, ignorant boy the only brave soul in the village? Who is more courageous, the man who swims to the harbor or the fisherman brings a sense of novelty by giving fated end a new beginning? When humans betray, spew hatred among their species, make lives too bitter, is it a sin to save an animal instead of a man? The eternal fidelity of a dog becoming the only beacon of life amid human abhorrence. Man has become a passive observer concealing his mind from his inner conflicts , the fate of thousand years unchallenged, traditions passing through generations unchallenged , orthodoxical norms endowed with shamanistic rituals, the spiritual chants slaughtering the humanity of innocent love. Human sacrifice to appease the Gods mulishly wraps a mountainous village into an inhumane tragedy on a red night. Despairs rings, no sight of salvation, bringing evil superstitions the nightly red moon fades over the sorrows of the egret lake, the sickle slashing the beanstalks steadily erasing the class barriers of human ugliness into a harmonious world enmeshed within the beauty of nature.


Life on this earth is like a wispy cloud in snowstorm. You see it clearly, but with a swipe of the hand, it vanishes into thin air. He was like a drop of froth, crystalline, round and moist and full of life one moment, and then obliterated the next.

We are the children of nature. Nature endows us with imagination; it urges us to rethink about our “self” in its bare form, to rethink our humanity. The malice of human submerged in the cruelty of the nature. Nature is the greatest equalizer, the ultimate victor, the crucial catharsis of human nature. Ask, Steward Li about the power of nature equalizing the inhumane society and class discrepancies when trapped in a severe snowstorm? Silently rebirthing the spirit of humanity on a snowy night. The Yellow river overwhelmed with Ma Laohan’s laughter swells in the torrential whirlpool of patriotism and an everlasting fighting spirit against the enemy. The legend of the Fengling ferry now floating on the nightly waters, under the hazy light of the lanterns. Patriotism seduces through the wordy supremacy of “I need you!” the simple hunger consumed by utmost passion. The people of the land encumbered by patriotic obligations , while the country forgetting the obligation towards its own people, empty stomachs pacifying the hunger through objectionable means The unassuming philanthropy at the charity bazaar creating an ardent patriot from a street hooligan. The romance of a pipe dream dissolving into harsh reality , a bombastic dream shattered as Huang Guiqui revealed her own hypocrisy through hypocrisy. The yearning to be loved bursting at the whispering of petulant lips, the lure of love preyed upon by dubious happiness. The wispy life bolstered by the ecstasy of being needed.


Just a moment before, this face had been suffused with power, solemnity and intimidation. The grand total of his feelings had been nothing less than the symbol of a monarch! But now it was as though it had all been smashed by this single act of revolt, and the magic powers had vanished from that swollen discoloured hole!

To know what is meant to breathe air of freedom. The radiance of the land lost in its invasion, the people of the land robbed by the conquerors. Homesick children yearning to return to their once lovable abode, the incessant questions of why doesn’t Yeye eat kaoliang gruel?, lingers in the eyes of his grandchildren as somewhere Qingdi’sdreams of becoming a war hero hand on the fate of a brass medal and a bayonet. A life-changing barter seizes Mr. Wei in a battle of supremacy. The power of ham shaking the core of a man’s sense of identity. The rebellion for liberation from the corrupt brutality of higher socio-political authorities, a country waiting to be saved along with its people. The hunters revolt against the local government, the hordes of fox pelts brightly shining alongside the torrential muddy river. The mask of solemnity and intimidation falling off through a single act of revolt, the peasants clearly seeing the bluff of a broken face, the magic declining in a mottled hole. The sole symbol of a monarch dissipating within the dreary prison walls; societal hierarchy collapsing into the streams of innocent blood descending from the sword. The forged metal crushing the life of poor for generations ultimately becomes the only path of escape. Zhu the knife, branding justice on the very sword that he created. The rebellion of the commoners against a ruthless society channels internal distress and emotional predicament of an imminent exile .As the hibernating snake awaits the dawn of the spring, the snake swallower explores new avenues for his survival ;both seeking to breathe the air of freedom.

Duanmu Hongliang(1912-1996) was one of the most gifted and graceful writers in the modern era of Chinese literature.. The Japanese invasion of North-eastern China (Manchuria) on Sept.8, 1931 impacted Duanmu to a great extent. Thus, the Mukden Incident became one of the crucial influences on Duanmu’s literary career. The stories penned in this volume link the oppression and melancholy of human life interconnecting dual themes of the controversial Japanese invasion and bleakness concerned with personal human relations and survival on the whole. The quality of Duanmu’s literary work is more than making fairy tales out of reality. The panoramic landscape of his stories travel from the poetic verses embellishing the vast beauty of the nature, the echoes of songs sung through the mountainous lands seeped in the visages of the written allegorical and surreal folk tales , the deep understanding of a society besieged with orthodoxy and prejudicial hierarchy circuitously mocking the realities of life, the trails of humanity lingering from the picturesque forlorn corner of rural scenery to the swarming prosperous streets of a metropolitan and in due course leading back to the wholesomeness of nature chiseled by the kaleidoscopic array of human emotions forming a congenial entity. Reading this book is akin to tracing Duanmu’s footprints enlightening a time and an era filled with patriotic passions , and nostalgia and above all comprehending the humility of a human life in a mere day.

4/5 ****

Going for a Beer – Robert Coover

Going for a Beer

I find myself gaping at the Kewpie dolls thinking about the devilish grin in those angelic eyes. Eight! Perfect circles of heaven. I count them twice before lining them like a bunch of soldiers. Was it that friendly man from the street who gave me these little drops of heaven? Does it really matter? Perry Como keeps calling those dolls like a lost child, “Kew Kew Kewpie dolls…She’s the cutest one of them all!!” Did I already put one of the soldiers in a grave between my teeth? Or were they two? Do I remember their deathly orgasm? The yellow stain transforms into a fluorescent rainbow through the green spout of the bottle thrust in between my lips. I can’t remember the mustard on my shirt. It’s proof exposed on my shirt, the howl of the wounded dog echoing the cry of a baby for a warm bottle of milk. He hates the bar food, the taste festers a stale vomit. I serve him a turkey on rye with mustard, every time he walks in that bar. Did he eventually fuck that lady who keeps the Kewpie dolls lined like soldiers in her apartment? The smell of stale urine pervade the foggy streets, I need eight more of my soldiers. I need to drown them in a tipple chasm. Those Kewpies they follow me everywhere. In the arms of the child, on the hospital beds ,in the womb of a woman as she walks down the aisle. One more drink. A punch in the face. A celebratory drink. A child is born. Life passes by. Death lurks. Perry Como sways to a bunch of dancing puppets. I stagger on the streets with a dart stuck in my neck. Did he really fuck those women? Doesn’t he remember those orgasms after the crazy carnival wins? The man at the bar. The one who remembers my mustard stain. The stench of my dried blood. The man at the bar. I don’t know, maybe he’ll have another one. <em“Well…you know…life”; I’m going for a beer. Are you?

4/5****

Collected Stories – Saul Bellow

Collected Stories

This is my first Bellow read. Over the years I never bothered reading any of his books and overlooked them at the bookstores. This being my first volume was not that ecstatic.

The presented anthology of 13 stories come with a mix bag of history, humor, irony, metaphysics, the Holocaust, nostalgia, sex, modernity, migrant life in America and identity ; accompanied by a witty narration. Most of the characters be it Samuel Braun, Rob Rexler, Harry Fonstein, Woody Selbst, Katrina Goliger or Max Zetland are not the epitome of beauty but are unique in their own imperfections. Bellow has an exceptional artistry in metamorphosing mediocrity to splendor. His several protagonists are sort of heroic who overcome life fragilities and emerge as winners in their own way. Most of them are Jewish or other immigrants trying to find their identity on the American soil; similar to what Bellow experienced during his life. These stories have a personal Bellow touch reflecting many of his own perspectives on identity (he fought the constant labeling of being a “Jewish writer”) and modernity. In ‘The Old System’, he mentions, “Mankind was in a confusing uncomfortable, disagreeable stage in the evolution of consciousness”, which shows his disheartening acceptation of modernity. These stories bring out the essence of beauty and joy from the most unconventional settings.

That said and done, there are some disheartening shortcomings too. The narration is loose and needs trimming at certain edges, making it rather difficult to focus on the plot. The stories did have a solid start but somewhere in the middle it became a carnival of unexciting surroundings making me browse pages to find comfort. Also, Bellow’s portrayal of Sorella, Aunt Rose and even Max Zetland are filled with excessive and repetitive usage of adjectives to embellish human anatomy which tends to be a bit dragging. At times, I felt like erasing the characters from the highly subjective text.

One thing I detest while reading short stories is skipping pages and this is exactly what I did here. I do not want to be unjust and form a rapid opinion about Bellow based on this writing .I don’t deny that he is one the superior writers but this book failed to create that aura. Hence, I will read some more of his works before inferring whether Bellow is my ‘cup of tea’.

3/5***

Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology – Salma Khadra Jayyusi

Modern Arabic Fiction: An Anthology

An admirable and didactic anthology on the journey of Arabic literature from ancient scriptures to soaring mount of novels and modern fiction. The exuberance of literary richness and excellence of the Arabic fiction is rendered amid a humongous assortment of more than 100 short stories; liberating Arabic prose from being pigeonholed to ‘Arabian Nights’ and fables.

4/5****

From the Heart of Europe: Anthology of Contemporary Slovenian Prose – Evald Flisar

The anthology includes exceptional text of 13 renowned Slovene authors i.e.:- Milan Klec, Maja Novak, Andrej Morovic, Andrej Blatnik, Lili Potpara,et.al; each is presented with a short biography and their published work.

These assorted writings depict themes of self-confidence, self-identity, loneliness, rebellion, dysfunctional families, death and maltreatment; skirmishing untoward probabilities of life. The stories speak about various struggles, cruel judgments and prejudices that an individual faces in time. The constant mentioning of life being filled with new possibilities and experiences, demonstrates the revolting ideas of the writers encouraging readers to be fearless and seek out opportunities to liberate from the monotony and relive the novelty that life offers. Most of these stories were publish during the early 1990s, thus there was a profound focus on the ongoing socialist bureaucracy (Milosevic regulation) that permeated in the civil environment and questioning the sense of belonging.

These short stories are neither melodramatic nor has the notion of “saving the world”. Nevertheless, they are incidents of emotions experienced by ordinary people who are constantly trying to save themselves and making a difference in their humdrum lives.

This book enlightens an incredible era of contemporary Slovenian literature which due to lack of fine translators had remained quiescent and secluded.

5/5*****

Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories – Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories

Akutagawa known as the “Father of Japanese short stories” stays true to his designation with this collection of metaphysically refined stories. The rendered stories: – The Grove, Yam Gruel, Rashomon, Martyr to name a few; highlights Akutagawa’s preference for macabre themes of immortality, depression, virtue, chaos and death. These stories encompass a constant battle of skepticism prevailing over virtue of morality v/s existence of evil.

In Rashomon, the act of the ghoulish old woman picking out long hairs from the skulls of the corpses to make wigs and sell them to buy scraps of food delineate a desperate act to fulfill the demonic perils of life. Similarly, ‘Martyr’ highlights the thriving soul of hypocrisy in religion and the susceptibility to strong gossip.

Akutagawa’s affinity for such themes brings out his real tumultuous relation with mental anxiety and clinical neurotic dwelling of his personal life. (He committed suicide at the age of 35 due to an overdose of Vernol). Furthermore, his description of kimonos/garbs adorning his protagonists illustrates a high usage of the color blue which in Japanese culture is the color of naivety,immaturity and youth.

4/5****