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The Red Room

The Red Room: Stories of Trauma in Contemporary Korea

Bruce Fulton
Ju-Chan Fulton
Foreword by Bruce Cumings
Copyright Date: 2009
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  • Book Info
    The Red Room
    Book Description:

    Modern Korean fiction is to a large extent a literature of witness to the historic upheavals of twentieth-century Korea. Often inspired by their own experiences, contemporary writers continue to show us how individual Koreans have been traumatized by wartime violence-whether the uprooting of whole families from the ancestral home, life on the road as war refugees, or the violent deaths of loved ones.

    The Red Roombrings together stories by three canonical Korean writers who examine trauma as a simple fact of life. In Pak Wan-so's "In the Realm of the Buddha," trauma manifests itself as an undigested lump inside the narrator, a mass needing to be purged before it consumes her. The protagonist of O Chong-hui's "Spirit on the Wind" suffers from an incomprehensible wanderlust-the result of trauma that has escaped her conscious memory. In the title story by Im Ch'or-u, trauma is recycled from torturer to victim when a teacher is arbitrarily detained by unnamed officials. Western readers may find these stories bleak, even chilling, yet they offer restorative truths when viewed in light of the suffering experienced by all victims of war and political violence regardless of place and time.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3754-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Bruce Cumings

    The Korean War was clearly a war, but what kind? The official view insists it was a war of aggression, with all blame going to the Russians and the North Koreans. According to this point of view, the war began on June 25, 1950, when the North invaded the South, an open-andshut case of aggression. Still, there is a nagging point: Koreans invaded Korea. What do we make of that? A different view, expressed as early as 1950, holds that the unilateral American decision in 1945 to divide Korea at the 38th parallel was “the invitation to such a conflict...

  4. In the Realm of the Buddha
    (pp. 1-24)
    Pak Wan-sŏ

    The candles were 120wŏna box and the longevity incense 100. I decided to play dumb. I produced 200wŏn, then snapped my purse shut.

    “That’ll be another twentywŏn, please.”

    “Really, mister, these candles go for a hundred everywhere else.”

    I put on the straight face I wore when I bargained down the price of a pike mackerel by 5wŏnor bought 20wŏnworth of bean sprouts and haggled an extra handful. Then I produced my Coy Innocent Look for the man and tucked the candles and incense in Mother’s shopping bag.

    “Sweetie.” Mother nudged me...

  5. Spirit on the Wind
    (pp. 25-122)
    O Chŏng-Hŭi

    Dinner was over, the meal table back in the kitchen. No more dishes clattering, no more water running from the faucet. But where was my wife?

    As I lay on my side in our living room watching the news, a pillow wedged under my arm, the soft footsteps from the veranda and then the opening and closing of the wardrobe drawers offered the only proof of her existence.

    She’s back. In the past this realization had either put me at ease or else made me feel that yet another crisis was looming. But not anymore.

    Five days ago my wife...

  6. The Red Room
    (pp. 123-190)
    Im Ch’ŏr-u

    “So, what’s new? Anything different …? Don’t hold your breath.”

    I’m flipping through the newspaper. The world is the same today as it ever was. You take the most commonplace occurrences and report them in commonplace, reassuringly soporific language, and there you have it—nothing different from yesterday, the day before, or the day before that. You can feel it in the front-page articles with their big headlines, in the photos wedged haphazardly among them like bits of dinner stuck between your teeth, the feeling you get from stuff that’s stale and worn out. Here, tucked away in the lower-right-hand...

  7. Afterword: Trauma in Contemporary Korean Fiction
    (pp. 191-196)
    Bruce Fulton

    The symptoms of what we understand today as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were identified in writing at least as early as the publication in 1920 of Sigmund Freud’sBeyond the Pleasure Principle, part of which is devoted to trauma. But not until 1980, when the syndrome was so designated by the American Psychiatric Association, did it receive a diagnostic cachet in place of what had previously been known by such terms as “shell shock.”¹ More recently PTSD has become the focus of a growing body of research on literary works dealing with trauma victims, and in particular individuals traumatized by...

  8. Back Matter
    (pp. 197-205)