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Manoa 12.1 (2000) 246-248
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Snake's Pillow and Other Stories
A Ready-Made Life: Early Masters of Modern Korean Fiction
The Clan Records: Five Stories of Korea
Snake's Pillow and Other Stories by Zhu Lin. Translated by Richard King. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1998. 200 pages, paper $16.95.
A Ready-Made Life: Early Masters of Modern Korean Fiction. Translated by Kim Chong-un and Bruce Fulton. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1998. 200 pages, cloth $38, paper $15.95.
The Clan Records: Five Stories of Korea by Kajiyama Toshiyuki. Translated by Yoshiko Dykstra. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1995. 186 pages, cloth $18.
When Chen Jo-Hsi's landmark collection The Execution of Mayor Yin arrived in the West fifteen years ago, Western readers were able for the first time to track something of the full horror that was China's Dark Age during the Cultural Revolution. And what a nightmare Chinese authors have revealed to us ever since. Zhu Lin, who continues to plumb this "literature of the scar" and whose work has appeared in Manoa, is a formidable Chinese author with the good fortune to have Richard King, one of our strongest translators, on her side. With Snake's Pillow--an edition that can justifiably be called eagerly awaited--we are given, like it or not, a further indictment of the abuses endured by women, especially during Mao's Dark Age. A collection of six stories--including "Night Songs," which at fifty-odd pages is more a novella (to which Chinese writers are unusually partial) --Snake's Pillow makes uneasy reading. Depicting village life along the Yangzi River in the emblematic heart of agricultural China, Zhu Lin's tales focus on a series of vulnerable, if not helpless, individuals--mainly women--who fall prey to the depredations of local power brokers. Rape and terror are as much a part of the landscape here as bamboo grove or rice paddy, and there is little to distinguish the Party's dictatorship of the people from any other period of rapacious feudalism in China's long history. There is no sparing here of the petty-minded vindictiveness displayed by communal party bosses: theft, rape, false accusations against the innocent, apostasy, abuse of power, hypocrisy. The lot, and in no particular order --this is daily reality in Zhu Lin's portrayals of a perverted Eden. As with Jacobo Timmerman or Georgy Faludy, what we get is the full, real, unsavory deal. Yet ironically, the arrival of Snake's Pillow is a little behind the times. With rapid political, social, and economic changes afoot in China, new literary reflections are already being forged: stood alongside such recent works as Liu Sola's Chaos and All That or Hong Ying's Summer of Betrayal, Zhu Lin's can seem dated. As observers of history, though, we have the responsibility not to forget. What Zhu Lin reports is too sad, and it is to be fervently hoped that her work is able to bring to the attention of our current crop of intellectual fundamentalists the full remonstrance of everything symbolized by the term "politically correct thought."
The steady arrival of twentieth-century Korean fiction in translation continues with A Ready-Made Life, a well-conceived anthology translated and selected by Kim Chong-un and Bruce Fulton. Indeed, with this fourth anthology to his credit, Fulton establishes himself as our finest arbiter in English of what now "qualifies" [End Page 246] in Korean fiction, rightly joining David McCann and Julie Pickering as the new wave of Western scholarly expertise in Korean literature. A Ready-Made Life gathers stories written from 1921 to 1943, the years of Japanese occupation, in which a form of cultural genocide similar to that currently practiced by the Chinese government in Tibet was in place. Inevitably, the psychic dislocation visited upon a nation under a foreign yoke underscores much of the work here. While none of the...