My Very Last Possession: And Other Stories

Pak Wanso, Author, Kyung-Ja Chun, Translator, Wan-So Pak, Author
Pak Wanso, Author, Kyung-Ja Chun, Translator, Wan-So Pak, Author M.E. Sharpe $62.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7656-0428-6
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
Paperback - 220 pages - 978-0-7656-0429-3
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Crumbling traditions and astonishing metamorphoses pervade the 10 stories in this collection by Korean writer Pak Wanso. All are oblique comments on the political events crucially shaping South Korea since the 1950s war. She finds particular irony in the disjunctions born of the conflict that challenged the cultural institutions of family responsibility. In ""Thus Ended My Days Watching Over the House,"" the narrator's dominating husband, Professor Min, is arrested at home by a secret policeman. In his absence, the suddenly liberated wife neglects his precious bonsai trees and crystallizes her disgust for her mother-in-law, a bedridden glutton who becomes increasingly monstrous. In the title story, an elderly woman talking to her sister-in-law on the phone reveals the devastating effects on her family since her son was killed in a student demonstration in 1980, in which protesters called for the end of the military dictatorship and the government's democratization. Pak overloads this story, didactically, with too much recent Korean history, but she hits a more subtle note in ""A Certain Barbarity,"" where the humble bathroom becomes the redoubt of Korean nationalism. The narrator suffers from constipation, a condition that afflicts him just as his neighbors upgrade from an old-fashioned Korean outhouse to the decadent flush toilet. The neighbors' grab for status stems from their sudden acquaintance with a supposedly rich cousin, and their sudden flaunting of wealth calls into question the whole neighborhood's cultural identity. The folkloric ""Granny Flowers in Those Heartless Days"" is Pak's best known story for its juxtaposition of war trauma, humor and, above all, tenderness. Set during the Korean War, it features two encounters between a rural matriarch and the military. In the first, she offers herself to a detachment of American soldiers to save the virginity of the village girls. In the second part, she takes the virginity of Korean Private Kim, to protect him from bullets in accordance with an old superstition. With a unique blend of historical acumen and feminist insight into Korea's changing culture, this volume discloses for the American reader the range of one of South Korea's most distinguished living writers. (July)
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