- Interview with Kim Aeran
Where do you find material for your stories?
My first collection of short stories was largely based on stories about my family or my personal experience, and the city—Seoul—played an important role in the second collection. Materials I draw upon tend to be on the periphery or in the magnetic fields of central events, not so much the events themselves. My stories tend to unfold in spaces where circumstances that are about to become a story or signs of stories gather. So sometimes, when I write about a city, I end up writing about everything minus the city, and when I write about fathers, the families I portray contain everything but the father. The basic material for my full-length novel was progeria—a disease of premature aging—but I couldn’t tell what kind of story it was going to be until it was done. Come to think of it, materials for my stories have generally been things that attract my attention for reasons I can’t explain rather than things that strike me as great ideas.
Which foreign writers do you admire? How have they influenced your work, if at all?
I like poems by Korean, Chinese, and Japanese writers from long, long ago—poems that, in the words of a classical Chinese [End Page 79] literature specialist, are short but leave you with a profound thought. I was often captivated by a few words or sentences that had the power to transcend time and space in the blink of an eye. Like a snowy crevasse that looks solid but gives way under your feet. I could feel myself grow through these chance mental plummets (or ascents). I haven’t committed to memory a collection of Chosŏn sijo, Chinese poetry, or haikus, but I still wish I could emulate the narratives and sentences I encounter in these poems. In terms of plot-driven tales, there’s nothing more gripping than the Korean folktales, Aesop’s Fables, and Greek mythology I used to read and listen to as a child. I guess their longevity attests to their power.
Congratulations on publishing your first full-length novel. How was your approach different from writing short stories? Which do you prefer to work on, short fiction, or full-length novels?
If writing a short story is being in a relationship, writing a full-length novel is being in a marriage. The experience was physically trying, but there was much more room to play around with things in a variety of different ways. I had fun. It gave me a chance to think about technical matters as well. I like the refined energy of short stories, but I plan to focus on full-length novels for the time being.
There seems to be a distinct contrast between the anxious, young, unmarried women and the strong mother figures in Mouthwatering. Could you tell us more about that?
I tend to have strong female characters, especially mothers, in my stories. This is perhaps because I grew up in a household full of strong women. As a woman writer, I don’t have a particular fantasy about motherhood. I think the positive impression I had of the mothers I saw growing up influenced my portrayal of mothers in the earlier stories. It goes without saying that I respect [End Page 80] mothers, but I think there are many different kinds of mothers out there. Some have monstrous ideas of motherhood, while others are devoid of any maternal instincts. This is because mothers are above all individuals with personalities. I plan to closely examine personalities in creating characters for my future works.
Why do you think Korean literature is not in demand overseas? I don’t think writers should write with readers in mind, but what elements do you think are necessary for a book to be loved internationally?
I think poor translating conditions are to blame. There isn’t a stable infrastructure or program to help translators and publishers. But I believe there’s been a growing interest in...