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From Si-sun,Chung Se-rang
『From Si-sun,』Author : Chung Se-rang
Publisher : Munhakdongne
Publication date : June 5, 2020
Number of pages : 340
Format : 133x200mm
ISBN : 9788954672214
To the Women Who Lived Through the 20th Century
From Si-sun, starts with the rather odd premise that a family with members living in Korea and the United States leaves for Hawaii for a one-time ancestral rite. From there it moves on through the tragedy of modern history, the violence against women of our era and the absurdity of the world.
Sim Si-sun was an artist, writer and elder ahead of her time. The members of the unique lineage she created through her two marriages honor her in Hawaii, and gradually mature, each in their own way. Chung Se-rang notes in her afterword that “this novel is first and foremost a 21st century devotion to the women who lived through the 20th century.” As such, From Si-sun, is a work that springs from a warm and straightforward gaze upon the women of an era.
A woman who knew more than anyone about the aggressiveness of this world and knew how to sympathize with the disadvantaged, Sim Si-sun was upright yet gentle, sometimes arousing public controversy with her progressive remarks bordering on the radical. On the tenth anniversary of Madame Sim Si-sun’s death, her family decides to hold a special memorial service for her. And it is to be held in Hawaii, where she spent her youth. There they prepare a unique ancestral ritual by way of everyone freely gathering for a meaningful moment. With family members connected to Sim Si-sun in different ways, they gather in Hawaii, each with their own discreet memories of her. They know how to exchange banter, care for each other and quietly watch the beauty of this world, but they also carry bits of heartache and scars. And the journey in the memory of Sim Si-sun, where they are looking for things and memories to dedicate to her, provides an occasion to look into themselves.
The characters that Chung Se-rang assembles are hoping for a world where humans, as ordinary regular beings of that realm, are living in harmony with other beings. Here is Nan-jeong, who argues for the need to attach a sensor so that they won’t accidentally step on a black cat. Hae-rim, who is furious at the reality of birds dying in the name of the sense of beauty for humans, and people who are worried that the cotton thread of a flower necklace might kill turtles. “Someone who mainly remembers what others did wrong and someone who remembers what they themselves did wrong. The latter is so much better.” That utterance is perfect for describing these people. Someone who remembers what they have done wrong is deeply aware of their responsibilities as human beings. They keenly point out crises and dangers in order not to repeat the same errors. Staring at the back of Ji-su, who at the news of an oil tanker sinking goes to wash sea birds, the world that Chung Se-rang’s exquisite sensibility points at is not that far away.
Madame Sim Si-sun and her family are tough enough to raise their voices against absurdity and irrationality, yet have the gentleness to take in the world sensitively and delicately. Gentleness sharply senses the cracks of the world, and those in the cracks share the tough-mindedness to gain a voice. In Chung Se-rang’s world, goodness is used as a strength. Goodwill is the driving force of robust action and will form the imagination of a world where no beings are alienated. The only thing left for us is to absorb the imagination of goodness that Chung Se-rang is presenting to us.
I was so happy while reading the book. I hoped the narrative would never end, and wanted to join the Sim Si-sun family gathering for pancakes. Seeing “strong” (not stubborn) women on the journey of preparing a memorial rite for a remarkable woman, I thought I’d prepare any number of ancestral rites in circumstances like this. If we all had grandmothers like Si-sun, who wrote, read, and lived her own life, what would Korean society have looked like? This book offers a satisfying outlook on how a family could develop if a woman who is not part of the patriarchy became its head. I hope this magnificent work, that offered me comfort and a genealogy, will be remembered for as long as the feminist classic Antonia’s Line.
By Kim Bo-ra