YEOYU1: Five Preludes & A Fugue by Cheon Heerahn
A young woman delves into the circumstances of her mother’s death ahead of her own marriage, interrogating a woman who witnessed her mother’s death and would later come to play a crucial role in her life. An exploration of the human (in)capacity for (self-)deception and knowledge, the story offers a nuanced portrait of contemporary (Korean) social mores. As with all Cheon’s work to date this beautifully crafted story places women at its core, and explores form and genre (in this case epistolatory) while subtly weaving into the text a deep interrogation of social issues.
YEOYU2: Old Wrestler by Jeon Sungtae
A retired wrestler struggles with amnesia and anxiety after he is invited to return to his home town for an event. Back in once-familiar surroundings, he wrestles to make sense of things as he is confronted by faces, scenes and smells recalled from a celebrated past.
YEOYU3: Europa by Han Kang
Inah has been having nightmares. Nightmares of fish bones, fractals, and a marriage that ended under some unnamed violence. Walking the night streets with a man she has known for years, whose feelings for her are bound up with his intense longing to live as a woman, the fragile bond of their relationship threatens to shatter. Internationally acclaimed author Han Kang directs her unflinching gaze on the painful complexities of damage and recovery, questioning what it is we want from ourselves and each other, and whether there are some things that are truly irreparable.
YEOYU4: Divorce by Kim Soom
A poet reflects on the lives of the different generations of women around her as she contemplates her own divorce from a socially-engaged photographer; her feelings are complicated by the ethics of public/private, art/life divisions, as well as the country’s contemporary history. The story reveals the raw complexity of gender dynamics in a society still hobbled by the demands forced on its people through war and ideology and rapid modernization; it is a good reminder of the different feminisms that do and must exist.
YEOYU5: Kong’s Garden by Hwang Jungeun
Imagine Cormac McCarthy writing about the boring lives of clerks and you’ll anticipate something of the dystopic flavour of this gripping but socially bleak short story from Hwang. In a Korean world in which education has historically meant everything, the narrator realizes both that this is not true (through her partner in an essentially loveless affair) and that the recognition of this fact does not surprise her at all. The narrator is drawn into a larger story when she refuses to sell cigarettes to Jinju, a young woman in the company of two men who subsequently goes missing.
YEOYU6: Milena, Milena, Ecstatic by Bae Suah
Hom Yun's meticulously ordered life of reading books and drinking coffee receives a jolt when a mysterious cultural foundation unexpectedly agrees to fund his film proposal: a blend of fiction and documentary, a tone-poem constructed around a lyrical narrative, set around Scythian graves in the High Altai mountains. Desperate to be taken on as his assistant, the foundation's secretary follows him from their offices and begins a night of crossed wires, dislocation, and reality seen through glass, darkly. One of South Korea's most astonishingly sui generis authors, Bae Suah mixes the cerebral and the pungently physical, the mundane and the wildly surreal, in a characteristically potent blend.
YEOYU7: Demons by Kang Hwagil
Set in a small rural village, seemingly everyday events take on a macabre meaning. We follow Kim Miyoung, a relatively new villager and the local primary school teacher, as she is slowly overcome by anxiety, with her daughter at the vulnerable young age of three, a difficult group of schoolboys under her wing and her mother-in-law trying to drag her into house-of-cards village politics. To top it all, she finds herself plagued by the idea of son: folklore spirits out to make people’s lives miserable. As the village gathers for the annual ‘meju-making day’, amid all the hubbub, Miyoung loses sight of her daughter Mina. Despite her cries for help, no one joins her to look for Mina, everyone seems to be against her.
YEOYU8: Left’s Right, Right's Left by Han Yujoo
The story takes place on a stairwell, all in about a minute’s time, while the narrator’s partner seizes her by the hair. The narrator had gotten caught, after running out of the apartment to try to escape assault. While she tries desperately to avoid falling down the stairs, she has a series of flashbacks about a friend who committed suicide years earlier. In this brief moment, she searches her memories for any signs she may have missed, and feels guilt for not having finished writing his story.