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Ready-Made Life

Early Masters of Modern Korean Fiction

Kim Chong-un

Publication Year: 1998

A Ready Made Life is the first volume of early modern Korean fiction to appear in English in the U.S. Written between 1921 and 1943, the sixteen stories are an excellent introduction to the riches of modern Korean fiction. They reveal a variety of settings, voices, styles, and thematic concerns, and the best of them, masterpieces written mainly in the mid-1930s, display an impressive artistic maturity. Included among these authors are Hwang Sun-won, modern Korea's greatest short story writer; Kim Tong-in, regarded by many as the author who best captures the essence of the Korean identity; Ch'ae Man-shik, a master of irony; Yi Sang, a prominent modernist; Kim Yu-jong, whose stories are marked by a unique blend of earthy humor and compassion; Yi Kwang-su and Kim Tong-ni, modernizers of the language of twentieth-century Korean fiction; and Yi Ki-yúng, Yi T'ae-jun, and Pak T'ae-won, three writers who migrated to North Korea shortly after Liberation in 1945 and whose works were subsequently banned in South Korea until democratization in the late 1980s. One way of reading the stories, all of which were written during the Japanese occupation, is that beneath their often oppressive and gloomy surface lies an anticolonial subtext. They can also be read as a collective record of a people whose life choices were severely restricted, not just by colonization, but by education (either too little or too much, as the title story shows) and by a highly structured society that had little tolerance for those who overstepped its boundaries. Life was unremittingly onerous for many Koreans during this period, whatever their social background. In the stories, educated city folk fare little better than farmers and laborers. A Ready-Made Life will provide scholars and students with crucial access to the literature of Korea's colonial period. A generous opening essay discusses the collection in the context of modern Korean literary history, and short introductions precede each story. Here is a richly diverse testament to a modern literature that is poised to assume a long overdue place in world literature.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. v

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Translators’ Preface

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pp. vii-viii

This is a collection of Korean short fiction predating 1945. Our selection of that year as a chronological boundary is based not only on its importance in modern Korean history—it marked the liberation of Korea from Japanese colonial rule—but also on the Korean...

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pp. 1-6

Few modern literatures have developed as rapidly as that of Korea. At the end of the nineteenth century many Korean writers still wrote in Chinese, the classical literary language, though the admirably precise native script, hangul, had existed since the mid-1400s...

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A Society That Drives You to Drink

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pp. 7-16

"A ya!" Scowling, she interrupted her solitary sewing with this weak outcry. The needle had stabbed beneath her left thumbnail. Her thumb trembled faintly and cherry-red blood appeared beneath the white nail. She quickly extracted the needle and pressed...

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The Lady Barber

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pp. 17-22

He took his cotton pajamas to the pawnshop and came away with a single fifty-sen silver piece. Recently minted, it had a hefty feel. As he clutched the serrated coin, he felt as if he were suddenly rid of the bothersome melancholy that had clung to his face...

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A Tale of Rats

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pp. 23-31

It's along about midnight of a nippy early-winter evening. All is dead quiet; surely the humans are wandering in dreamland. Yes, indeed, this is the time when rats everywhere are masters of the world...

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The Rotary Press

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pp. 32-45

The clock ticking above A’s head chimed once, softly. The sound drew the gaze of the small clusters of figures slumped in their chairs in front of A. Those people knew without looking that it was nine-thirty. A was relieved that it wasn’t ten o’clock, but he was...

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An Idiot’s Delight

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pp. 46-54

"Just like the countryside,” I said to myself as I pushed aside my newspaper and lay down in bed. It was several days after we’d arrived in Sôngbuk-dong, on the outskirts of Seoul. It wasn’t my initial sight of the dark shapes outside our door, nor...

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A Ready-Made Life

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pp. 55-80

President K of the newspaper stifles a yawn and buries himself deeper in his armchair. “Jobs are hard to come by around here,” he says halfheartedly. He extends his arms, looking as if he would like very much to stretch his entire body...

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The Photograph and the Letter

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pp. 81-88

He saw her again that day. She was sitting the same way, in the same place, as if waiting for someone. A seaside resort— She had been there the day before, and the day before that, sitting...

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Mama and the Boarder

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pp. 89-106

My name is Pak Ok-hui, and this year I’ll be six years old. There’s just two of us in my family—me and my mother, who’s the prettiest woman in the whole wide world. Woops—I almost left out my uncle. He’s in middle school, and what with him...

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A Descendant of the Hwarang

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pp. 107-120

It was last autumn when I first met Hwang Chinsa. I had finished breakfast and was about to leave for a walk in the hills when my uncle called me from his room. “How would you like to tag along with me...

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pp. 121-132

My wife ain’t the type you look at and say, “Hey, she’s pretty!” That is, unless you’re plumb skirt crazy. I mean, I live with her, and I could look at her through the rosiest-colored glasses and she’s still not the least bit pretty. But you know, there’s more to a skirt than...

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When the Buckwheat Blooms

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pp. 133-142

Every peddler who made the rounds of the countryside markets knew that business was never any good in the summer. And on this particular day, the marketplace in Pongp’yông was already deserted, though the sun was still high in the sky; its heat, seeping...

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Mystery Woman

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pp. 143-148

My grandfather was approaching eighty and my sister was only seven when I left home. After six months in Seoul I returned to visit them. The previous year, the Russo-Japanese War had erupted and the first battle had taken place near my hometown. Grandfather...

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The Haunted House

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pp. 149-160

The house was supposed to be haunted. But at the time I had no idea. Clad in my simple traditional jacket and sheltered by an umbrella, I clutched the hand of an elderly realtor as he strode along in front of me, crossed a creek that had...

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The Barbershop Boy

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pp. 161-171

Min Chusa was not pleased with the face that greeted him in the mirror. The gray that was less noticeable when his hair was shaggy (the irony of this had not escaped him) seemed for some...

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Phantom Illusion

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pp. 172-178

In the beginning there was an idiot who couldn’t tell right from left, And now, a hundred generations later, Invalids cursed by heaven proliferate among his hapless descendants...

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The Mule

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pp. 179-191

Once again young Yu saw a fresh pile of trampled-down dung where the mule had been tied up next to his house the previous night. And once again he reminded himself it was high time he gave the owner a piece of his mind and stopped him from bringing the...

E-ISBN-13: 9780824864088
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824820152

Publication Year: 1998