- Questioning Minds: Short Stories by Modern Korean Women Writers
Questioning Minds: Short Stories by Modern Korean Women Writers is a collection of ten short stories by ten Korean women writers, translated and with an introduction by Yung-hee Kim. The anthology offers a historically expansive selection of women's writings from the mid 1910s to the mid 1990s. All of the works in the collection are translated into English for the first time, and many of the writers included in the volume—though part of Korean literary canon—have often been left out of major anthologies of Korean literature in English translation, with the exception of Ch'oe Yun and Pak Wansŏ. This comprehensive volume of women's literary works of the twentieth century, therefore, fills a significant lacuna, as those of us who teach Korean literature, culture, and history are still faced with the problem of an inadequate number of quality translations available in English. [End Page 138] It is a welcome addition to the growing body of literary and critical works available in the field of Korean literature in the English-speaking world.
I am particularly appreciative of the three stories from the colonial period (1910-1945) included in the volume—"A Girl of Mystery" ("ŭisum ŭi sonyŏ," 1917) by Kim Myŏngsun, "Kyŏnghŭi" (1918) by Na Hyesŏk, and "Awakening" ("Chagak," 1926) by Kim Wŏnju—since colonial women's fiction has been further marginalized from the already small range of English translations of the colonial period works. The three short stories by these women writers belong to the very first phase of the colonial-modern feminist movement, broaching the fundamental issues such as education and reform of kinship and marriage customs, and autonomy of women's subjectivity in this crucial transitional period.
The next three stories—"Hydrangeas" ("Suguk," 1949) by Han Musuk, "The Mist" ("Angae," 1950) by Kang Sinjae, and "When Autumn Leaves Fall" ("Nagyŏpki," 1961) by Song Wŏnhŭi—produced between the late 1940s and the early 1960s, are also equally valuable, as their works and other women writers' works from this era have tended to be overlooked by both translators and the male-dominated South Korean literary establishment. This era under the Syngman Rhee (Yi Sungman) regime is considered to have been a conservative and repressive era when mobilization of women into the postcolonial nation-building process took the form of emphasizing traditional roles of women as mothers and wives. The stories included in the volume from this period reveal to us the struggles of women constrained by such social circumstances as abusive in-laws, neglectful and unfaithful husbands, suppression of women's creative talents, and their exclusion from the public sphere and the professional world. These writings represent the very voices and gestures of their resistance, which still have continuing urgency and relevance to contemporary South Korean women.
The last four stories—"A Dish of Sliced Raw Fish" ("Pyŏng'ŏ hoe," 1979) by Yi Sun, "The Light at Dawn" ("Saebyŏk pit," 1985) by Yi Sŏkpong, "Stone in Your Heart" ("Tangsin ŭi mulchebi," 1992) by Ch'oe Yun, and "Dried Flowers" ("Marŭn kkot," 1995) by Pak Wansŏ—published between the late 1970s and the mid 1990s, round out the volume. This is the period when women's writings began to diversify significantly in terms of topics, issues, and the writers' socioeconomic backgrounds. As a group, they began to treat such experiences as those of working-class and lower middle-class women and women activists (both students and workers) in the labor and anti-government movement, squarely positioning women's issues as intersecting with and compelling revision of the previously ungendered or masculinist conceptions of ethno-nation and class. The works by these four writers included in the volume give us a sense of the diversity and historical changes taking place in this period.
The volume as a whole will further enable us to examine crucial questions. How can contemporary...