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Questioning Minds

Short Stories by Modern Korean Women Writers

translated and with an introduction by Yung-Hee Kim

Publication Year: 2010

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 Minds marks 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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Series: Hawaii Studies on Korea

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xii

Questioning Minds is designed to reflect the living tradition of Korean women’s fiction writing through a representation of short stories dating from 1917 to 1995, written by ten different women, with the aim of making them available in English translation to a wider readership outside Korea. This translation is especially...

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pp. xiii-xiv

A number of individuals and institutions lent their valuable assistance in bringing Questioning Minds: Short Stories by Modern Korean Women Writers to publication. Several authors and families kindly gave me their permission to translate the stories and reproduce photographs: authors Pak Wan-sŏ, Song Wŏn-hŭi, and...

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Introduction: Traditions in Modern Korean Women’s Fiction Writing

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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...

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Chapter 1 A Girl of Mystery (1917)

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pp. 15-23

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 former kisaeng, or woman of the entertainment world. The stigma associated with her mother’s former profession..

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Chapter 2 Kyonghui (1918)

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pp. 24-54

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..

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Chapter 3 Awakening (1926)

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pp. 55-67

Better known by her pen name, Iryŏp, Kim Wŏnju (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...

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Chapter 4 Hydrangeas (1949)

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pp. 68-82

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...

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Chapter 5 The Mist (1950)

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pp. 83-99

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...

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Chapter 6 When Autumn Leaves Fall (1961)

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pp. 100-118

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...

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Chapter 7 A Dish of Sliced Raw Fish (1979)

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pp. 119-149

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...

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Chapter 8 The Light at Dawn (1985)

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pp. 150-163

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...

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Chapter 9 Stone in Your Heart (1992)

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pp. 164-185

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...

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Chapter 10 Dried Flowers (1995)

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pp. 186-214

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...


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pp. 215-222


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pp. 223-228


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pp. 229-233

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About the Translator, Back Cover

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pp. 234

Yung-Hee Kim is a professor of Korean literature in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. She received her doctorate in Asian studies from Cornell University, taught at the Ohio State University...

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837587
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824833954

Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Hawaii Studies on Korea