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Every YearHwang Jung-eun

Life will pass you by, swiftly, even if you don’t do that. Natalie will, swiftly. She’ll cry, she’ll be disappointed, she’ll be disillusioned and angry, in other words, she will love (p. 182).

『Every Year』

Author : Hwang Jung-eun
Publisher : Changbi
Publication date : September 18, 2020
Number of pages : 188
Format : 128x194mm
ISBN : 9788936434441

Hwang Jung-eun

She made her debut through the 2005 Kyunghyang Daily News New Writer's Award with her short story “Mother.” She is the author of the short story collections Passi Enters the World and No one and the novels One Hundred Shadows, I'll Go On, among others. She is also the recipient of the Manhae Prize for Literature, Sin Dong-yup Prize for Literature, Hankook Ilbo Literary Award, Lee Hyo-seok Literature Award, Daesan Literary Award, Kim Yu-jeong Literary Award, Today's Young Artist Award and the Grand Prize of the Young Authors Award.

Those of Us Who Survive Through Our Sympathy for Each Other

 

Hwang Jung-eun’s works of fiction often feature people who simply “put up with” life. It’s also the case with Every Year. In her work there appear characters that are not exactly happy, they’re never joyful, in some ways they’re closer to misery and pain. However, they manage to survive somehow, “putting up with” all the disillusionment and rage.

Even though it’s a collection of short stories, the four stories in this book constitute a series that follows the life of an ordinary family, so it almost reads like a single novel. Lee Sun-il and Han Jung-eon, an old couple, move into a building owned by their in-laws in order to help out with the housekeeping for their eldest daughter and her husband who both work. The eldest daughter Han Yeong-jin sells comforters at a department store; the second eldest daughter Han Se-jin is a writer; the youngest, son Han Man-su, does manual labor in Australia. Then there’s Han Yeong-jin’s husband Kim Won-sang, Han Se-jin’s female friend Ha Mi-yeong, Lee Sun-il’s aunt Yun Bu-gyeong, her son Norman Kylie and his daughter Jamie Kylie. They are stories so ordinary that you feel like you’ve heard them at some point or other in your life.

The family, like so many of those around us, go through struggles that are mundane and stereotypical. Lee Sun-il does the housework for Han Yeong-jin and looks after her grandchildren, doing hard labor with never a moment to sit down and stretch her legs all day long. Han Yeong-jin, in exchange for exploiting her mother’s labor, has to put up with her irritated outbursts and all her stuff, along with the resentment and anger she feels towards her mother for having put the burden of providing for her family on her shoulders from a young age. Lee Sun-il, in turn, still harbors resentment for her father and cannot find it in herself to forgive him for putting her through hard labor when she was a young girl; but at the same time, occasionally gets tearful over the memory of how he handed her some cash in a yellow pharmacy envelope on her wedding day. Lee Sun-il also reminisces about her childhood friend, Sun-ja, from time to time. Sun-ja was her only friend. While Lee Sun-il was working as a live-in maid, Sun-ja was kind to her, bought her jajangmyeon, helped her run away, but then also caused her to get caught. She recalls, over and over again, how she slapped Sun-ja across the face.

The characters in the novel are all scarred. They exploit each other endlessly – those who scar others, owing to the scars. At least in the stories, it is almost as if they’re devoid of the feeling of “happiness.” From the readers’ point of view one can’t help but wonder what these characters live for – but on second thought, maybe that is what our lives actually resemble. The emotions we go through in life are quite similar to what they go through. Throughout life, happiness or joy is but momentary. We live, putting up with the hours of sadness and pain that take up our lives.

We still have no idea on “why” we have to live, what the meaning of life is. However, in the book, the author speaks through the voice of Lee Sun-il. The reason they keep trodding on despite it all, the reason they put up with this disillusionment of a life, is because they keep hoping for a “good life.” They have no solid idea what a “good life” is, but they put up with their own lives in the hopes that others will achieve this “good life.” We never know what to say when we witness such a thing. How do you put into words how you feel when you see the one that hurt you, the one that you’ve hated, struggled desperately just to pull through without breaking?

Perhaps that was the ultimate message the author was trying to convey through this book. Life is, essentially and inevitably, painful. There is no escape from getting scarred, from scarring others. We could never be rid of those scars, we could never fully forgive, but at least we can comprehend. We could understand and feel pity. The reason we put up with this hard world is because of the sympathy we have for each other. So as long as we can cherish this sympathy we have for each other, we can survive, just a little bit longer.

 

By Han Seung-hye
Columnist



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