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Questioning Minds

Questioning Minds: Short Stories by Modern Korean Women Writers

translated and with an introduction by Yung-Hee Kim
Copyright Date: 2010
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  • Book Info
    Questioning Minds
    Book Description:

    Available for the first time in English, the ten short stories by modern Korean women collected here touch in one way or another on issues related to gender and kinship politics. All of the protagonists are women who face personal crises or defining moments in their lives as gender-marked beings in a Confucian, patriarchal Korean society. Their personal dreams and values have been compromised by gender expectations or their own illusions about female existence. They are compelled to ask themselves "Who am I?" "Where am I going?" "What are my choices?" Each story bears colorful and compelling testimony to the life of the heroine. Some of the stories celebrate the central character's breakaway from the patriarchal order; others expose sexual inequality and highlight the struggle for personal autonomy and dignity. Still others reveal the abrupt awakening to mid-life crises and the seasoned wisdom that comes with accepting the limits of old age.

    The stories are arranged in chronological order, from the earliest work by Korea's first modern woman writer in 1917 to stories that appeared in 1995-approximately one from each decade. Most of the writers presented are recognized literary figures, but some are lesser-known voices. The introduction presents a historical overview of traditions of modern Korean women's fiction, situating the selected writers and their stories in the larger context of Korean literature. Each story is accompanied by a biographical note on the author and a brief critical analysis. A selected bibliography is provided for further reading and research.

    Questioning Mindsmarks a departure from existing translations of Korean literature in terms of its objectives, content, and format. As such it will contribute to the growth of Korean studies, increasing the availability of material for teaching Korean literature in English, and stimulate readership of its writers beyond the confines of the peninsula.

    10 illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3758-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Traditions in Modern Korean Women’s Fiction Writing
    (pp. 1-14)

    Modern Korean women’s engagement with fiction writing began in the late 1910s under the adverse conditions of Japanese colonial rule (1910–1945), which had put an end to the Chosŏn (or Yi) dynasty (1392–1910) and with it Korea’s political autonomy. Notwithstanding their national plight, first from Japanese colonization and then from national division in 1945, Korean women have kept their voices alive, using their writing to express concerns about both themselves and their society. This pursuit has been anything but easy, but these women have succeeded in forging an unbroken line of their own literary tradition that stretches now...


    • One A Girl of Mystery (1917)
      (pp. 15-23)
      Kim Myŏng-sun

      A native of Yungdŏk village in the P’yŏngyang district of South P’yŏngan Province, Kim Myŏng-sun (1896–ca. 1951; pen names, Mangyangch’o and T’ansil) was born to a wealthy merchant and his concubine, a formerkisaeng, or woman of the entertainment world. The stigma associated with her mother’s former profession cast a shadow of gloom and shame over Kim’s life and work. After finishing grade school in P’yŏngyang, she entered Chinmyŏng Girls’ School in Seoul in 1908, where she was known to be an industrious and intelligent student. However, her school years in Seoul were difficult, as she was subjected to...

    • Two Kyŏnghŭi (1918)
      (pp. 24-54)
      Na Hye-sŏk

      The daughter of a well-established family in Suwŏn, in Kyŏnggi Province, Na Hye-sŏk (1896–1948; pen name, Chŏngwŏl) attended Chinmyŏng Girls’ School in Seoul, where her exceptional intelligence and artistic talent in painting were widely known. Upon her graduation from high school, Na, encouraged by her Japan-educated elder brother, proceeded to Japan in 1913 to study Western oil painting at the Private School of Fine Arts for Women in Tokyo.¹ At the college, Na became a quick convert to feminism under the powerful influence of the Japanese feminist movement led by the Seitō (Bluestockings) group, as is evident in her...

    • Three Awakening (1926)
      (pp. 55-67)
      Kim Wŏn-ju

      Better known by her pen name, Iryŏp, Kim Wŏn-ju (1896–1971) was born in the village of Dŏktongni, near the port city Chinnamp’o in South P’yŏngan Province, the first daughter of a Protestant minister. Her mother, although uneducated, was the primary influence on Kim’s formative years, proudly supporting her daughter’s education, but Kim suffered the loss of her mother in her early teens. Kim’s caring father continued her mother’s enthusiasm for education by sending Kim to Seoul in 1913 to study at Ewha Girls’ School, which had been established by an American Methodist woman missionary in 1886. In 1915 Kim’s...

    • Four Hydrangeas (1949)
      (pp. 68-82)
      Han Mu-suk

      Han Mu-suk (also spelled Hahn Moo-Sook; 1918–1993) came from a family belonging to Korea’s modern-educated class, which produced elites highly knowledgeable in Western thought and culture. Han’s enlightened, Western-oriented, and well-to-do family environment favorably affected her personal development from childhood into young adulthood. Given the Confucian-dominant, conservative milieu of her society, Han’s progressive and nurturing upbringing and extensive exposure to a wide variety of educational and cultural opportunities were exceptional and contributed to her later literary development into a well-informed and productive writer.

      Han’s artistic talent was discovered when she was young, and her parents provided her years of...

    • Five The Mist (1950)
      (pp. 83-99)
      Kang Sin-jae

      A Seoul native, Kang Sin-jae (1924–2001) was the eldest child of a medical doctor and a kindergarten teacher. In her early childhood, her father’s job took the family to Ch’ŏngjin, in rugged North Hamgyŏng Province. The cold weather, harsh landscape, and wild seas of the region made a deep impression on the bright and sensitive Kang, who later used such natural scenery as the background in her writings. After her father’s unexpected death when she was a fifth grader, her widowed mother, with four young children in tow, returned to the capital of Seoul for the sake of their...

    • Six When Autumn Leaves Fall (1961)
      (pp. 100-118)
      Song Wŏn-hŭi

      A writer recognized for her deep-rooted consciousness of the political and historical development of Korea, Song Wŏn-hŭi (b. 1927) was born in Seoul, the eldest of four children. Her parents’ trying lives during the colonial period exerted an enduring influence over her life and career. Song’s father, a descendant of an upper-class Confucian scholarly family, became an anti-Japanese freedom fighter, having suffered the decline of the family fortune and the brutal deaths of his elder brothers at the hands of the Japanese police. To avoid police surveillance, Song’s family fled to China in 1938, when Song was a fifth grader....

    • Seven A Dish of Sliced Raw Fish (1979)
      (pp. 119-149)
      Yi Sun

      Yi Sun (b. 1949) comes from a family background that sums up the turbulent life courses of modern Korean intellectuals, lives that closely parallel Korean political history itself. Her father, educated at Chūō University, Tokyo, was a student resistance fighter who suffered imprisonment by Japanese police until the liberation in 1945. Yi’s mother—a student at Tsuda College, Tokyo—had to abandon her schooling due to unsettling political developments in Korea during the colonial period. After the liberation, however, she resumed her education at Seoul’s Yŏnhŭi University (present-day Yŏnsei University), becoming the first woman student in the university’s history and...

    • Eight The Light at Dawn (1985)
      (pp. 150-163)
      Yi Sŏk-pong

      Esteemed by her friends and colleagues for her straightforwardness, uncompromising integrity, and aversion to publicity, Yi Sŏk-pong (1928–1999) was the second of three siblings, and the only daughter, born to a wealthy merchant family in Kimch’ŏn city, North Kyŏngsang Province. Gifted and bright, Yi was a top student until her graduation from high school, upon which she entered Sungmyŏng Women’s College (then a two-year program) in Seoul in 1946 to major in Korean literature. During her college years, she devoted herself to cultivating creative writing, especially poetry, and some of her poems found publication in period newspapers. Meanwhile, she...

    • Nine Stone in Your Heart (1992)
      (pp. 164-185)
      Ch’oe Yun

      A professor of French literature at Sŏgang University in Seoul since 1984, Ch’oe Yun (real name, Ch’oe Hyŏn-mu; b. 1953) is known as one of the most thought-provoking, innovative, and original novelists of contemporary Korea, and a rare example of a woman writer who combines creative writing with university teaching. A precocious, gifted child with dreams of becoming a cartoonist, Ch’oe was also an avid reader and a self-cultivated writer from her teenage years, often giving her stories to friends as birthday gifts. With her writing skills groomed at the Kyŏnggi Girls’ High School in Seoul, Ch’oe went on to...

    • Ten Dried Flowers (1995)
      (pp. 186-214)
      Pak Wan-sŏ

      Despite her late debut as a writer in 1970, at the age of thirty-nine, Pak Wan-sŏ (b. 1939) is known for her indefatigable creative energy spanning four decades. One of the most prolific modern writers, Pak has nine collections of short stories, fifteen novels, and seven essay collections to her credit. Pak is also noted for her wide thematic versatility, which ranges from critiques of patriarchal marriage institutions and extended family systems, to asymmetrical husband-wife relationships, gender discrimination, the generation gap, immigration, consumerism, social injustice, government corruption and repression, to name but a few. Armed with her characteristic wry humor,...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 215-222)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 223-228)
  9. Index
    (pp. 229-233)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 234-235)