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A Dream to Be MyselfChoi Jin-young

One day I might become a polite, affable and honest person. But I’m only fourteen. How can Dad want me to be one when he, who is so much older than me, still isn’t? I can’t believe he all of a sudden can ask who my best friend is and what we usually do, he who knows nothing about me ... (p. 54).

『A Dream to Be Myself』

Author : Choi Jin-young
Publisher : Hyundae Munhak
Publication date : February 25, 2021
Number of pages : 240
Format : 104x182mm
ISBN : 9791190885621

Choi Jin-young

She started out as a writer with the Literature and Practice Award for New Writers in 2006. Her works include the short story collections The Top and Winter Vacation, and the novels Unfinished Song, Toward Where the Sun Sets, and To My Sister Je-ya. She has been the recipient of such awards as the Manhae Prize for Literature, Baek Shin-ae Literature Prize in 2020, Sin Dong-yup Prize for Literature in 2014 and Hankyoreh Literary Award in 2010.

Water, Fire, Light – and a Dream


The child grows up to become an adult. But when and how? Some adults do not know that they are adults. Other adults imagine themselves as adults when they are not. Some children do not know they became adults, while others believe that they were born as such.

In A Dream to Be Myself, there is also a child. The child grows up. But she hasn’t become an adult. Only a grown-up child.

Adults damage children and children are hurt. Parents who should love a child the most, are those who wound them the worst. Hands that should caress strike, and lips that should speak of love spew out curses. Teachers who should help a child grow up properly, twist their minds and stifle their possibilities. The child, twisted and bent down by hurt, drags her weary body to and from home and school, bowing her head, looking at the ground. The more she thinks about it, the more her heart hollows out, and the days sting when she breathes.

Who should she tell? Who will listen to her? Who will understand? No one. None. I will tell myself. I will listen to me. I will be the one who understands.

The child wipes her tears, shuts her mouth tight and begins to write in a diary. Here she starts writing letters that will not be posted, to friends, to loved ones who are not here. The sun sets, the stars come out. They in turn are setting, daybreak is near. The pencil tip is worn out and her fingers hurt, yet the child does not stop. Does not sleep.

“I was bending and on the verge of breaking. Why did I become like this? I wanted to erase my existence. Wanted to become clear by erasing people that make me lonely. Some adults rip and obliterate what’s mine without my permission. At the heart of this world is hell. The world carries hell like a seed, and it is born out of the seed. The reason a baby cries when it’s born, and every time it wakes up from sleep, is because it remembers hell.”

The child was submerged in water. But however hard she tried, she couldn’t quench the fire burning on her body. She was hurt again before the wound healed. The child was always just about to die, and several times she actually did, and also thought she should. Thus the days passed. When the child was distressed her mind was dark, and when she felt suffocated she took her thoughts and locked them into sticks and stones, and threw them away in front of the house. She kept walking and walking, muttering half to herself, towards the darkness, towards the mirror. Seasons came and went, while the frail and flat words that resembled letters would flourish, then tumble in droves, like the leaves sprouting then falling from a parched tree. The child lived every moment in the present and eventually became a child all grown-up.

The grown-up child can now do everything an adult can do. She can think how adults think. She can say what adults say. Now she can get back at the adults and now speak to them; but for some reason, this child hesitates. She writes and writes again as she thinks and thinks. And so she asks herself over and over again: “Did I want to be an adult? No, I just wanted to be myself. It’s not just something you turn into with time, it’s not something you become as your body develops and your mind proliferates.”

The child grew up dreaming of revenge, but when she actually starts her revenge and utters curses, she is disgusted and filled with shame. Though unhappiness abounds, she tries to not feel unhappy. If you’re born in hell, it is only right to become its native. It is just natural. But dreaming to be herself, the child tries not to become one. Neither do circumstances let her.

The child was stronger and tougher than she thought. She took heart when she needed to pluck up courage and confronted the facts when she needed to face the truth. Thus she moved forward, with her bare hands, pulling through season by season, incident by incident, and instant by instant.

Like Justine, who was fully aware of the disastrous approach of the planet Melancholia, and faced it resolutely, she was undaunted. Though she was trembling and afraid and surprised, she did not tremble nor feel afraid or surprised.

The child stood in front of the rainy sea and said, “I’ll probably cry again, but never will I cry for the same reasons. It’s heartbreaking to think of my younger self consumed by gloom. You and I are not the same person. You will be happy somewhere. I’m not unhappy.”  (…)

Each time, the author wrote a different novel, but the child has grown this much throughout them. Though she inherited the blood of a malicious adult, though she was born in the seed of hell, the child refused to accept fate. She rejected natural causality and progress. She declined to inherit anything whatsoever. She did not allow my life, and the present, and tomorrow, to turn into hell. Though bashful at every moment, she faced her own shame and accepted her limits, suffering it through without avoiding it. She walked through fire, through water, into the light, and recorded that moment with honesty.


By Jeong Yong-joon

Translated by