Tag Archive | World Literature

Replacement – Tor Ulven

Replacement (Norwegian Literature Series)

 

The mid-afternoon breeze lingers over the traces of burnt up lavender oil. As the heady scent fans out the pleasing Camille Saint-Saëns symphony swirling on a loop nearby; my heart slowly awakens to the thought of an early spring , the currency of which now seems to be a piece of fiction amid this dreary winter. The flaky skin on my forehead smoothens with a dash of coldcream, the lonely curl tucked back in my bundled hair. The looking glass pondering of a time when the opulence of a soft skin , the raven-tint coiffure, render into becoming another pipe dream , the supple visage resigning to its eventual cascading fate. “Take an apple, for example, or any other fruit or vegetable that rots, that withers, shrivels, and wrinkles, as human bodies wither, shrivel, and wrinkle more and more as they age, so that rotting can be considered the lowest common multiple of all fruits (or vegetables), just as people too are only really revealed in decline…….”; the recurrent words of Ulven putting me in a trance. In the descent of a living soul, lay bare the gospel truth of years gone by, magnifying every infinitesimal detail of a quavering time stamp that seem to be hidden beneath the illusive youthful mirage, perpetually trickling down to a forgotten interlude that seem to have dissolved in the passage of life. The fading confines of fact and fiction searching for a glimmer of memory or a dream to legitimize the practicalities of the living shrouded amid surrealistic assimilations of a poignant reflection. The genuine face revealed in the midst of a stimulated sham.

 

…….an artist hanging a row of bananas from a rack along the wall, how all the bananas were painted white, so they all looked identical, and how they were all artificial, except for one, and how once the exhibition opened, one banana, the real one, of course, began to rot, thereby revealing its true face, while the others, the artificial ones, of course, stayed white and pristine.

 

The deceptive façade falling off exposing the tiniest irregular disparities, the forgotten interlude of time now manifests in the peculiar image that is no longer a familiar companion. The implicit fantasy set on the explicit world stage breaks down in a meaningless hiatus, the nagging feeling of misplaced opportunity, the process of self-realization that is not too late to hold onto the transience immediacy of time, the need to express the raw pain of this very thought as the precision of reality remains. Oceans slowly turning into sand, the foetus leisurely growing in the womb, youth being substituted by old age , the sense to see, to think , to imagine, the strategies of equal and opposites, the precision of the surroundings embracing the ambiguity of life. Replacement becomes a linguistic ode to placing the living at equilibrium with the existing milieu, the existence personified by everything real, everything unreal. The attempt to challenge stereotypes being the greatest stereotype of all.

 

….he imagines a blind man with a rattling box for a stomach, who constantly feeds himself coins just to buy himself a few more minutes of sight, though when the river of change dries up, he’s blind until he can fish up some new coin….

 

We are indebted to our cognitive skills. We indebted to our vision, our ability to speak, to hear, we are answerable to every act that our minds and hands commit. Ask a blind man what would he give to see a speck of crimson floating in the morning sky, ask those who are bed-ridden what would they give just to be able to sit at the dinner table. The trembling fingers who battle with every button that needs to be keyed in a shirt, the delirium that gradually erases the sweet nostalgia of your first kiss, the warmth of a lover’s naked body, the crumpled sheets that no longer carry the scent of your beloved, sobriety being taunted by a reclusive beer bottle, the forlorn heart that fraternize with a half-lit cigarette ,sounds of a chimney evaporating in vacuity along the waning years; emptiness builds sanctuaries , you get used to the burgeoning darkness and yet, darkness is never still. Ulven writes, “Whenever you want. Nothing is physically stopping you, nothing, that is, but the prohibition itself.” Reading Ulven’s celebrated words, make me ponder on how we humans take things for granted. How we in our luxuriate narcissism bring an illusion of invincibility to our mortality. The crimes we commit against each other, the ignorance that mushrooms in neglect, how we bloated with pride disregard the lives we throw in oblivion, the very lives who could one day save us from our own nullity.

 

Someone is standing motionless on the footbridge. As you get closer you see that it’s a middle-aged woman in a gray coat, and that she’s thrown something, it’s impossible to say what, over the rail, and that now she’s following it with her eyes. Afterward, she turns around and walks toward you. As you pass one another, you seem to see a secret smile of forbidden pleasure playing across her face. ………..

 

The phenomenon of death points the issue in permanence of physical departures and deliberations over the plausibility of an afterlife. Ulven fields an inquiry in the correlated subject matter of legitimacy of a soul. The rationalities of death and dying make an emphatic paradox debating the religious dogma of a heaven and hell. The contemplating abstractions of mortal v/s immortal soul characterised as the anecdotal sum and substance of biological continuity v/s spiritual reliance. Death is perceived either as a relief or consolation, the boundaries of consciousness disappearing in a deafening cry. Ulven’s outlook on how we don’t possess the exclusivity of joie de vivre, accentuated Ulven’s own personal turmoil. The candid dialogue on suicide… “you remember what the psychiatrist said, how when someone finally convinces themselves to do it, they get excited, cheerful, they seem happy, energetic, and everyone thinks they’re getting better, but in fact they’re not getting better, they’re just grimly, morbidly happy because they’ve finally decided to do it…”, comes to be a prophetic writing on the wall underlining Ulven’s own impending suicide couple years later. (Tor Ulven killed himself in 1995).

 

Replacement swarms with the quotidian of the lowest possible decimal of organic existence. Elementary trivialities are elevated on a visionary pedestal, entwining the reticence of beauty with the complex realism. With beauty comes suffering. Germination is chased by decay. Ulven’s amorphous metaphorical world may seem as clear as the mud, yet the celebrated verses flow into multifaceted passage that at times equate to serene banality of a pond; the silent waters a chimeric humeral veil to the chaotic world thriving beneath brimming with stones, aquatic fauna and flora, each embracing the frictions of splendour and degeneration. Akin to silhouettes meeting in secrecy , Ulven’s voices rise and fall throughout the solemn narrative fluently switching from the meditative musings of a nonagenarian protagonist to the assorted individual dispositions of multiple characters bracing the aesthetics of a life beyond and within the parameters of beauty and suffering. Steadily, as the reader immerses in these soul-stirring reflexions resonating in the queries of resounding silence, the flow of words animating the numerous articulations amalgamate into a single resonating conscious , the assumed mind trip eventually residing within you, the reader, the humble self locked up in the precariousness of time.


…..what you’ve got to understand is that meaning can be found in meaninglessness, and that these meaningless words hold all you need to know.

 

All is connected, all is replaced. Change is inevitable. You find yourself standing alone with your reflection, a tranquillity steadily sets in, you keep gazing into the identical likeliness until the image blurs your rationalities, the chill in the air no longer affecting your bare skin, the last whiff of the lavender fetching in the elusive epiphanies of the Ulvenesque aura that everything matters, every tiny bit of it creating intelligent and unintelligent life. Insignificant beads strung together transforming into pearls of wisdom, the interlacing circulatory sequence edifying with every drop of fluid sagacity. So, readers like myself who whine about facets of life getting in the way of my undertaken readings, need to take a step back pausing all the juvenile tantrums and appreciate the dealings of life in its entirety no matter how tough or easy things might seem, respect it much as you respect your beloved things , value it as much as you value the words you read in a book, maybe even more , for as every single letter is as precious as the word composed ,remarkably in some of the most meaningless things lies the profundity of a lifelong meaning.

 

5/5 ♥♥♥♥♥

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 ♥♥♥♥

Quicksand – Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

Quicksand

 

What is to be a fool? What is to play the fool, bewitched into becoming a mere cat’s paw used to draw amorous carnality from the flames of passion? What is to feel powerless, ridiculed in love when appreciation veils subtle humiliation, to be a clay pigeon in the game of love? What is the sine qua non of love? Wherein, the human universals of shame and humiliation circumvent the existent perplexity of self-justification. Dubious emotions casting shadows creating a vivid portrait of a hypersensitive inner-world sheathed in the depths by humility of love and arrogance of lust. The immoralities of an imagination seducing the moralities of human nature. What is it to sense an illicit love that has yet to take a definite form, looming in the heart of sheer lust?


….And even of if it was wrong to be secretly in love with another man, what was so bad about being in love with a woman, someone of my own sex?”….

 

Tanizaki brings forth an enticing work of fiction steeped in delirious pathology of eroticism and psychological obscurities in the quest for an obsessive longing. The lesbian affair mutually affecting Mitsuko and more so Sonoko, prevails with the conquest of sexual pleasures; supple bodies become a constructive and destructive force of subliminal mind, insatiable for sensuous stimuli.

The torrid liaison sexually and emotionally manipulates Sonoko and Mitsuko invading along the lives of Watanuki and Kotaro, distressing and disrupting the very inadequacies of individualistic disposition. Tanizaki explores the ambiguities of love and marriage delineating the fervid mystification of the sinister bend ingrained in the core of human nature. The sensual arc centring eroticism tainted by hysteria bypasses the aspects of perversion sketching out human frailty encompassing the aesthetics of Mitsuko’s virtuous beauty. The need to ‘cling onto love’ culminates in mortification with the ‘pretence to love’, bona fide revelations still lingering in a rigid state of denial. Watanuki’s sexual impotency masked within his embolden physical dishonesty stands in contrast to Kotaro’s sexually potent yet impassioned libido curdling tangible neurotic regression of complex relationships changing the entire course of basic psychosomatic make-up of human physicality. Profoundly intertwined in the web of envy, violence, adultery, malice, animosity and other ensuing emotional incitements, the four keyed up protagonists ravenously cling onto the vanity of love; Mitsuko becoming the core link in the catastrophic game of love and eroticism , the two men and Sonoko mere pawns of manipulation. Love, an intoxicating blend of lust and devotion, serene yet unstable when disturbed by surplus stress equates to the quicksand phenomenon, a static human fallibility sinking in the deep well of chaotic pith.


So I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into the quicksand, and although I said to myself I had to escape, by this time, I was helpless. I knew I was being used by Mitsuko and that all the while she was calling me her dear sister she was actually making a fool of me.

 

Tanizaki’s exploration of women thriving in naturalistic societal milieu, women whose lives are confined to the workings of their inner-self, is subtle yet provocative. Tanizaki perceives the external human equation as an artistic portrait wherein the bare truth lies buried in its shadowy depths, abstracted from the customary kaleidoscopic visible exterior. The female characters be it Sonoko or Mitsuko are sexual aggressors; the unrestrained sexual needs clashing with the emotional displacement are emphasized by jaded manipulative passions stimulated by forlorn hearts. The brattish demeanour fading in the virginal splendour of supple chaste body; sex being the prime tangible deriving force of commotion. Being a frequent Tanizaki reader, the literary configuration is structured with a definite beginning and an end; the journey in between either fascinating or mundane transforms imagination into impending authenticity; the enabled truth which is not ethical but psychological. The masked flaws of a virtuous beauty self-contained in a manipulative world fixated on force rein. The Japanese titular connotation “Manji” symbolizing the four pronged Buddhist Swastika, epitomize four harmonious lovers immersed in the whirling force of passion, fantasizing the certitude of love.

…..I kept pretending to be confident of her love…..

 

 

3/5 ♥♥♥

Radish: (China Penguin Special) – Mo Yan

Radish: China Penguin Special

 

The silken jute stalks sing, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”
The silken jute stalks sing, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”

The chorus of a bare back fills the barren land,
Dew laden leaves recite lore of a superhuman,
The blistered belly nestled near a dimly lit fire,
Bare-chested and barefooted, he was detached,
Crisp voice descending in silence, apathy his attire,
In waves of a lush reverie, a respite he seeks,
Nature’s feeble lullaby, in harshness of his life.

The auburn ducks snicker, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!
The auburn ducks snicker, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!

Witnesses the fertile soil, long miseries of a boy,
Bears the purple sweet potatoes, the pinch of hunger,
Crouched between tossed radishes, a fallen fingernail,
The guilt of theft, abandoned in the burning coals,
In tongues of fires, melancholic arias prevail,
The old blacksmith’s song pushing chords of joy,
Resting on the anvil, the golden radish, radiates,
Mysteries of life scattered in slivers of faith.

The vegetable patch whisper,” Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”
The vegetable patch whisper,” Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”

Agriculture without its irrigation, a motherless child,
A mother’s breast with no milk, a deadly fright,
Hundreds of labourers toil, chisels hastens,
The allegorical mother claiming loyal lives,
In the obscure womb lie the Commune’s whims,
Opened floodgates dragging the human plight,

The cold white stones hum, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”
The cold white stones hum, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”

In glory of socialism, the man eats,
In glory of socialism, the man marches,
In glory of socialism, the man barters,
Human virtue, an imperfect bastard child,
Immorality surges, in human sacrifices,
In glory of socialism, the graves reek,
In glory of socialism, mankind gets bartered.

Ardently Mo Yan pens, ” Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”
Ardently Mo Yan pens, ” Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”

A mason, a woman and a blacksmith,
Lust of love indebted to the fallen irises,
Hungered the red jacket, the scent of a crimson scarf
Youthful love, caressing kisses, hearts writhe,
In a meadowlark call, the secret alarms,
Bleeding love redeemed in a sunlit radish.

The two bloody gouges scream, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”
The two bloody gouges scream, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!”

Swan-like, he stretched his neck, standing,
The hem of his coat touching the wiry thighs,
Like a fat-headed catfish on feet, he strolled,
On the banks of the river, golden rainbow afloat,
Desires of a sunlit radish, sown in hazy sighs,
The falling rays of the autumn sun, verbalize,
A doleful tale of a fragile heart in a benumbed abode.

The golden radish chimes, “Hei-hai!! Hei-hai!!
The golden radish chimes, “Hei-hai !! Hei-hai!!

Only if,
He had the warmth of a mother’s breast
Love had not perished in the black earth,
Had not the radish lie hid in the river mists
Had not the hammer been his inheritance,
Had not humanity sprout callous tentacles,
Had humanity sheltered his naked fears,
Had childhood walked the a euphoric path,
The rustling leaves wiping the trickling tears

The silken jute stalks sing, “Hei-hai !! Hei-hai!!”
The silken jute stalks sing, “Hei-hai !! Hei-hai!!”

4/5 ****

The Vegetarian – Han Kang

The Vegetarian

 

“…. I went on and came to a tree. The tree told me that one could not talk here because human beings do not understand feelings. I went on, I was sorry to part with the tree because the tree understood me.” – ( The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky)

Abstinence – The passage of self-denial, the resolve of sheer restraint; where does it all begin and where will it eventually end? The steady shedding of birthing desires, the restriction of outwardly impulses marred by internal nightmares, slowly culminating into a growing silence. Silence – the sin of resilience or a rickety salvation from a venomous psychotic turmoil or a falsified symbol of complacency? Complacency , it’s obeisance revered, it’s rebellion sued. The superficiality of an acquired complacency steeped in the will of ignorance, the façade of normalcy shamelessly taking refuge in someone else’s mediocrity. A sense of superiority acquired by the bullish masking of your own imperfections within the blemished veil of others. Power- The artillery of dominance menacing the societal hierarchy, becoming a fateful pawn in haunting gender games separating individual and the community. The woes of patriarchy are magnified by the cultural power play of resilience and rebellion. The loneliness of the body, an individual, muddled in the patriarchal conformism embodying the egotism of a person’s disposed ignorance to the needs of others. The entrapment of individuals within their own individualities; the legitimacy of a human disseminating in societal iniquity. The possibility of violence and the impossibility of beauty thriving in the chaotic mesh of human feelings; abstinence being the only respite to an existing nirvana.

Yeong-hye’s proclamation of being a vegetarian triggered a distressful cycle of abuse and self-annihilation. The status of women in a patriarchal society is marred with agonizing conflicts. The aching desire to maintain normalcy in a gingerly structured survival balancing the hierarchical constitution burgeons with a sense of superiority and the thriving of a submissive spouse. The thought of quitting the existing conflicts, the surreal yearning to sprout from the earth, the undertaken path of abstinence frees the body from the vicissitudes of the mind. The radical spirit of a woman powerless in a world enveloping values that demands a bona fide conformity, endures the burden of her choices being ruthlessly interpreted on a communal dais.

“This was the body of a beautiful young woman, conventionally an object of desire, and yet it was a body from which all desire had been eliminated.”

The entrapped melanocytes claim their dermal existence in a patterned bluish-gray birthmark. The ugliness of the Mongolian Mark disproves the beautiful distinctiveness of the melanocytes condemning the presence of the dermal cells that are different in their formation. The psychedelic floral patterns painted on Yeong-hye’s naked body bury the unsightliness of the Mongolian Mark in the alluring work of art. The beauty of the art evoking a repulsive guilt of carnal desire. Art is escapism. Sex, the beaten path to escape into a fantasy. The worlds of art and sex collide merging the flesh and identities, faceless humans, the body becoming distinct, free-moving into a whole new entity. The ultimate nullification of personality and identity. The intensity of the emotions clashing over the quandary of body over mind wrapped up in surrealism of unrestricted art. Free-will convulsing within the bounds of insanity, drives the notion of sexual freedom to the edge of a carnal conundrum.

“ Was he a normal human being? More than that, a moral human being? A strong human being, able to control his impulses?”

When the fear of losing everything overrides the self-assured convictions deterring a restrictive conscious encompassing unrestrictive art, freedom becomes a luxury. The discomforting anxiety burdens the agony of self-realization. The notion of an ‘absolute freedom’, an untainted freedom beyond the realms of self-examinations trapped between the battles between normality v/s animalistic fervour and morality v/s immorality. The impulses of self–obliteration hovering over Yeong-ho.

Identity becomes a farcical metaphor floating in its own singularity. The human body is torn between its own language and the language imposed by others. The individual and the community segregated by the former’s quest to explore the terrains of freedom confronting the limitations of the society; the sum and substance of ‘identity’ collapsing within an individual. Han Kang is meticulous in layering the intricacies of mainstream Korean Society laminating the cultural fringes in the dual domains of “social-self” and “solitary-self”. The concept of freedom and identity carved in harmony with the workings of societal dogmas rather than those of an individual is tactfully highlighted through the firm notion that people are somehow in debt of the socio-cultural benevolence. The menacing arcs of gender, food, sexual liberation, sexual violence, abuse, mental maladies and suicide dismantles the values of personal freedom with asphyxiating constraints. Thus, the fatalities of individualities misplaced in the struggles, societal responsibilities and imposed taboos; the denied personhood exiled in the feelings of displacement.

“Whether human, animal or plant, she could not be called ‘a person’, but then wasn’t exactly some feral creature either – more like a mysterious being with qualities of both”

Personal identity becomes highly subjective in this three-tier narrative. Each of Han Kang’s focal characters struggle amid the legitimacy of their personhood. Be it In-hye, who has this incredible ability to adapt to any dire circumstances with staunch endurance, binding up her wounds with an ingrained smothering stability. Yeong-ho , who weighed down by his own battles of moral obligations and self-depravity. Lastly, Yeong-hye’s husband who exemplifies the nitty-gritty of a patriarchal society. But, the greatest irony of the identity clash stems in the portrayal of Kim Yeong-hye. Despite Yeong-hye being the pivotal common thread throughout the audacious narratives, fails to take the centre-stage. Her personhood becomes secondary forging its way around and through her, in the course of her emaciated life. Yeong-hye is steadily pushed in the background. Her own individuation clings on the opinionated strings of the people around her.

“ Look , sister, I’m doing a handstand; leaves are growing out of my body, roots are sprouting out of my hands……they delve down into the earth. Endlessly,endlessly…….yes, I spread my legs because I wanted flowers to bloom from my crotch; I spread them wide……..”

Respect – Who deserves the core of its sentiment? The oppressed body that uproots itself from the surface of the human race or the resilient body that submerges under an ocean of emptiness to survive among the human race? Or then, is it the inescapable individual existing within the two claustrophobic bodily milieus, who is the rightful beneficiary of the justified reverence? The predominant existentialism theme encircling this literary reserve, probes the legitimacy of human existence in the state of chaos amplifying the very core of human nature. The individual remains incomprehensible; the significance of kith and kin disseminating in a ruthless abandonment. Unlike the black bird soaring the blue skies, the earthly bound tree runs short of absolute freedom. A tree may stand solitary on the mountain top, sturdy on the fertile ground, still, its roots run deep, firmly rooted into the earth below. Akin to a tree rooted in its earthly codes, an individual is forever rooted into the societal dogmas. An individual is far from being truly free, the cost of an absolute freedom paid through self-annihilation. The supreme exemption from the morally reprehensible decoding of the totality of being attained in the final uprooting of a human being from the society. Is then, the path of abstinence a bane or a boon? At the risk of bizarre insanity devoid of a definite beginning or an end, is then the onset of abstinence a daring last resort to establish identity? And, how farther can a person keep running, far into the deep darkness before crashing into his/her own fractured soul?

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 ****

Sandalwood Death – Mo Yan

Sandalwood Death

Palpitation! The word itself brims with mystifying sounds. The flip-flopping of the heart muscle attuned to the ambience of the twelve tone symphony, fingers smoothly gliding over the chromatic keys of a piano, the steady tempo of the inherent music fluctuating within the irregularities of variable frequency of the cardiac rhythm, the fleeting pause descending into the pentatonic scales of a violin finding its way into the emptiness of a skipped heartbeat, synchronize the tingling of a body. The words of the heart coiled into the tremulous effect of rapid repetitions coursing through incessant throbbing. The forbearance of the heart melting away in the furnace of lawful decree. Yama, the King of Hell pacifying the cries of Little Insect. The bearded goat at the mercy of the white snake. The seduction of the white snake pitying the fool of the tiger. The pigs and dogs scrambling out of the fear of armed wolves. Amid snarling jackrabbits, the vicious panther pounces on the white tigers; the magical tiger’s whiskers drenched in the reverberations of an anxious heart. The black cat singing melodic, heartbreaking elegies, the feline cries swirling in bereaved hearts. The strings of mao hu(cat fiddle) birthing the opera of life and death, the stubborn ox designing the aesthetic antiquity of death; a rooster crowing at the sight of twin leather straps. The extravagant vocal arias of “….sandal—wood—death, a term with a rough exterior but an aesthetic core, displaying the patina and aura of antiquity”, overriding the myth of humans being reincarnated from animals, the animalistic demeanour of humans dishonourably indulgent than their primal rebirthing mammal souls. Man being worst than animals.


….what is known as “execution” is an art, one that a good man will not do and anyone who is not a good man cannot do. Executioner is an occupation that represents the heart and soul of the Imperial Court. When the calling flourishes, the Imperial Court prospers. But when it languishes, the Imperial Court nears its fated end.

Mo Yan’s graphically meticulous illustration of the execution acts signifies the central stance of the death penalty and the concurrent gory sentencing in China’s Imperial (1900s) political sphere. The piece of blood soaked human flesh quivering in the executioner’s malodorous palm acquaints the reader with the cruel method employed by the codes of criminal law to inflict maximum amount of suffering. Mo Yan’s embellished prose may at times be a graphical hyperbole yet; the elucidated display of harsh rule to install fear of retribution, certainly does not underplay the archives of reality. “The Plenipotentiary wants to know how long the condemned can live after he’s cut in half”. Executions being made more enjoyable than a stage play. ‘Loyalty’, the mocking sentiment only adhering to the bearing of the subordinates confirms the nauseating truth of the burden of law lying solely on the shoulders of a common man.

Is an executioner the dregs of the society? A man at the bottom of the heap? Mo Yan debates the societal hierarchy, grading human existence by classifying stereotypic standards of rank, academia and vocation. The reckless mind-set of the hierarchical superiors towards the lives of those thriving on the margins of the society mapping the foundation of savage reality of societal absurdity pertaining to obsolete-lowly profession at variance with the aristocracy of heritable titles. If there was no executioner to culminate the penalty, then who would carry out the dire job of decapitation? If there was no butcher, then who would put a perfectly cut slice of meat on a decorated plate? If there were no daily workforce, then who would construct the railroads? No job is menial; no job is disgraceful, for all jobs are done by humans meant for their utmost survival. And every trade has its master, its zhuangyuan.

….he was neither a laotaiye nor a yuanwailang—he was the preeminent executioner in the Board of Punishments, a magician with the knife, a peerless decapitator, a man capable of inflicting the cruelest punishments, including some of his own design, a true creative genius…

Zhao Jia was a survivor grabbing every opportune circumstance, the zhuangyuan of the executioners serving for more than four decades at the Board of Punishments. A debt of gratitude released from the humble butcher’s abode, the craft singing the soliloquy of the sandalwood death.


Maoqiang, otherwise known as Cat Opera, is an operatic genre created and developed in Northeast Gaomi Township. The arias are exquisite, the staging unique, the ambience magical; in short, it is the ideal portrayal of life in the township

Meow..Meow…Life’s last opera enthralling the audience with the pomposity of death. A nation in peril, the citizens of Northeast Gaomi forever in revolt, paying the price of being heroic. The commanding policy of Kaiser Wilhelm, the autocracy of Von Ketteler , the operatic songs of mutiny drenched in bloodbaths , Sun Bing , the inheritor of the Maoqiang Opera tradition, a man of prestige among his peers, chose vengeance over the overbeaten virtue of forbearance. Sun Bing, a master performer and a rebellious reformer, rebelled against the German supremacy in China ,the railroads swarmed with the mutinous Boxer Rebellion. Mo Yan depiction of Sun Bing amalgamates the vibrant grandeur of the Opera and the humility of a single erhu retelling the tales of societal subjugation and familial fidelity, chasing the sound and the image of perspicacity and crazed laughter, questioning the validity of the undertaken rebellion. Mo Yan opens each chapter with a sombre aria staging lyrical segments of villain and heroes caught in a lifelong revolutionary opera reciting a resplendent narrative to eager listeners. Sun Bing who acted on the operas stage for most of his life became the spectacular drama himself.

In his exquisite literary pieces, Mo Yan’s treatment to his women protagonist is commendable. Mo Yan’s women irrespective to their muddled sentimentalities and promiscuous play of feminine charm are a potent mixture of fearlessness and empathy.

Having lived up till then among a performing troupe, Meiniang knew all the acrobatic moves for the opera stage, and she had never been schooled in the traditional feminine imperatives of “three obediences”—first to father, then to husband, and finally to son—and the “four virtues” of fidelity, physical charm, propriety, and fine needlework.

Sun Meiniang‘s scheming ways of using her feminine beauty for personal gain, erases the proverbial notion of “happiness” as a spotless sentiment. In a savage land, the virtuous emotion of contentment is soiled by the specks of duplicity. Meiniang’s definition of happiness strikes a balance between physical promiscuity, her undying love for her dieh(father) and the desire to have had the beauty of “lotus feet”. A true gratification in fated circumstance with no moral strings attached.


“Suffering is the road to respectability; danger is the path to prominence onstage.”

In death, the sorrowful cry of the bird oscillates in the benevolence of a dying man. The ordinary citizen, the perennial ‘common man’ swallowing insults and humiliation grasping the vulnerable nonsensical pillars of forbearance and loyalty courts the disaster of annihilation when flouts the authoritative decree. Slowly but sternly, Mo Yan layers complexities of human emotion juxtaposing ironies of tangled relationship and passionate spirit for subsistence in a dramatically charged atmosphere bestowing a humane side to every penned character besieged by their incommodious circumstances and societal status. The magical surrealism of the opera overlapping the savage reality of corporeal punishments and the socio-political ambiguity steeped in the operatic act of immorality and probity. Mo Yan’s protagonists are distinctive role players vacillating in physical and emotional rhythm and rhyme of hunger, passion, desire and bravery. The intricacies of the characters are viewed through a bifocal lens mirroring within the person’s conscience, diminishing the myopic stance of ethics. Qian Ding’s drunken melancholic confession exemplifies the relevant quandary. The fierce melodic opus depicting the stimulus of life and the opulence of death swings in musicality of the modernization and traditionalism chronicles the past and the present. The sorghum rich land of Gaomi Township reeks of sweat, blood, urine, putrefying human flesh and abhorrence of humanity and yet, from these acrid stench emits the sweet fragrance of resilience, devotion, heroism and love for a dignified existence.


The dead are noble, the living worthless….

In the prophetic Maoqiang recitals, Mo Yan raises the imperative question –‘Who is the rightful owner of the titular sagacity of being a dignified individual?’ Those who let go of their virtue of forbearance to seek equitable vengeance or those who bravely accept death penalties entangled within the lawless discrepancies or those whose lives are trampled on the whims and fancies of political supremacy or then those who call themselves the benevolent righteous protectors of the law and the land. Mo Yan chronicles the historical acrobats through an operatic act like narrative configuration, highlighting crucial historical event and figures carving a political dais for an allegorical satire of life and death set during the 1900s China, coursing through the egocentric reign of Empress Dowager Cixi, the intense socio-institutional Wuxu Reform Movement and the influential anti-imperialist Boxer Rebellion. The political history forms a secondary stratum to this illusory musicality ; political satire infusing elements of dark humour to the problematic conundrum of corruption, Imperial tyranny and the vulnerability of individual lives. Each of the Gaomi residents misplaced a part of their identity in their will to survive. The ordinary lives that go unnoticed throughout the perfidious walks of life, find an eternal glory in the cannibalistic brutality of death. Sardonically, the mislaid beauteous solemnity of the living is ultimately found in the opulence of death.

Recounting this glorious work, Mo Yan articulates –“…it is all about the sound….it was the sound that planted the seed for the novel and drove its creation”. The historical romance of human resilience evoked in the rhythmical timbre through the inimitable chorus of Maoqiang opera; merging the mournful strains of nightly train whistles into the surrealism of enchanted fox fairies, the persistent semblance of sound perforating the consciousness amid the ocular pathways created as annotations of the sound. Subsequently, as Mo Yan plants the “seed of his sounds” in his heart, I lock my eyes onto the soaring sorghum stalks scattering the grains of a valiant Gaomi, my ears affixed on the enthralling prose, I unwearyingly immerse in the “kip..kip..kip” of the rat gnawing into the dark corner, the crackling of the tanned skin with the very first bloody incision , the sharpness of the knife puncturing the smoothness of the glistening flesh, the squeals of the pigs, the shrieks of humans, the melancholic arias piercing through societal ambiguity , the excruciating screams of the dying shuddering the bashful clatter of the living , the creaking of the Yama’s Hoop as it tightens around the chastised skull, the rustle of the blood red sandalwood flowers, the uninterrupted bubbling of the sesame oil soaking the five feet tall purple sandalwood stake, the shrill of the ripped beard, the snipping of queues, the murdering of the soul, the orgasmic happiness of Meiniang, the warm blood dripping onto death’s majestic palanquin, the plonking of the bloody knife after the 500th cut , the dramatic folk operas retelling tales of oppression , the thundering sound of gallantry and human fortitude, the galumphing of destined socio-cultural revolution and the resonance of life, as the Gaomi populace knew it. My palpitations strumming to the beat of Tan xiang xing.

4/5 ****