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Even If We’re Worlds ApartYi Hyun-seok
『Even If We’re Worlds Apart』Author : Yi Hyun-seok
Publisher : Jaeum & Moeum
Publication date : February 12, 2021
Number of pages : 304
Format : 138x203mm
ISBN : 9788954446303
“On this short story collection,” I had wanted to write. What I mean is, I’d wanted to write, in a transparent self-assured way, about the different social and temporal context of the pieces in this collection. Somehow I couldn’t bring myself to do that. It’s not only that the characters represented in this collection are too diverse, or because the topics the author deals with are too expansive. Why not? Without a clear intention to search for an answer, but vaguely wishing to settle my questions for myself, I returned to the first page of this book. I decided to revisit the worlds in this collection, one by one.
A father who left his wife and daughter for his same-sex lover, his daughter who keeps vigil by his deathbed and “I,” his doctor, who gives up the idea of writing a novel out of the story of his patient; an older sister who is an advocate for the abolition of abortion laws in South Korea and her younger sister who chooses pregnancy as a way to marry her beloved; Jeong-hye who worked as a nurse in Gwangju during the military brutality in May 1980 and a nursing assistant who stayed for a short while with her in her childhood who’d always wanted to go to Frankfurt; U-jae who was present at the scene of an industrial disaster and Hui-gon who was crashing at his place; a doctor who’d defected from North Korea who recognizes a new virus and “I,” a South Korean doctor, who ignores his warnings simply due to inertia …
This collection of short stories deals with an expansive world as it illustrates a diverse set of characters. It sometimes makes us feel distant from the moments we clearly believed were love, disappointed that “perhaps love depends on how much we can fool ourselves” (p.168). In other moments, it makes us want to declare that, despite it all, this is indeed only human. In the depiction of the Gwangju massacre (that makes one lose faith in the word “human” itself), we are unwittingly moved into wanting to comfort Jeong-hye in the novel. They wonder, “Could she really have gone there?” (p. 254) with the words, “Yes, I’m sure she’s there. I’m sure she’s alive and well over there.” After I read through all the characters in the book once again, I realized I was feeling what the narrators in the book were feeling, and it allowed me to see what kept me from saying anything definitive about this book. When one is wishing another well “even when we’re in a different world” – there is a sense of shame, a tiny bit of humiliation in it.
That is to say, in a world where one cannot always make good, admirable choices, there exist people who feel responsible for the parts they had no choices for, and bear the burden of shame and humiliation that comes from reflecting on it time and time again. Especially those that are imprisoned and measured by the words “all your unhappiness is the result of your own choices,” – the underprivileged, women, someone, or maybe all of us exist in that state. In this collection of stories, the characters are not portrayed as absolutely righteous people that suddenly become the victims of society. They are not always wise or tenacious. They’re simply people who always ask themselves and inquire about events in our society. They doubt, and love, others. Although this “world” where some are pushed into this shame and humiliation is sorrowful, somehow the fact that there are people who feel this way brought me comfort as well. Because they were so like me in that sense. They were reflections of me, who could only ask myself, whenever someone told me “that’s because you’re too sensitive,” if I had been indeed overly sensitive. It felt as if someone was telling me that it wasn’t my fault. I felt as if I no longer had to blame, or feel ashamed of, myself for being forced into playing the fool. I felt it was okay to gaze at, to inquire after, and start over in this world. In a world where sex-workers are loudly turned away from donating blood even in the face of brutal calamity, in another corner there are young students who plead for their blood to be taken – I felt it would be possible to have another go in this world depicted in these short stories. And among those people, because there are people like Jeong-hye who could only gaze at the warm blood filling up the vinyl packs, I could also stay a little longer in this world full of shame and humiliation and gaze on ahead.
That is why when I returned to the beginning of the book, I had this question in my mind. In I Left Them In the Garden will “the doctor” end up writing the story? Should he be forced to write it, how, in what method would he tell the story, and what elements would he tell? Will he embrace everything he had misgivings about, and still be able to write?
But when I reached the end of the book for the second time, I thought I would no longer have to worry about the stories “he” left in the garden. Because they were not lying there discarded, but were being gazed upon. This unrelinquished gaze, even in a world that causes us shame and humiliation, would lead us to a place where we could truly understand another in our respective worlds.
And then, that would save us in the end. These stories will enable us.
By Han Jung-hyun