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The Red Room

Stories of Trauma in Contemporary Korea

translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton and foreword by Bruce Cummings

Publication Year: 2009

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 Room brings 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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Cover, Title page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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p. v-v

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pp. vii-xii

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-and-shut case of ...

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In the Realm of the Buddha

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pp. 1-24

The candles were 120 wŏn a box and the longevity incense 100. I decided to play dumb. I produced 200 wŏn, then snapped my purse shut. “That’ll be another twenty wŏn please.” “Really, mister, these candles go for a hundred everywhere else.” I put on the straight face I wore when I bargained down ...

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Spirit on the Wind

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pp. 25-135

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 ...

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The Red Room

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pp. 123-190

“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 ...

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Afterword: Trauma in Contemporary Korean Fiction

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pp. 191-195

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’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle, part of which is devoted to trauma. But not until 1980 ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837549
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824833268

Publication Year: 2009