Sunday, 27 April 2014

'Photo Shop Murder' and Other Stories by Kim Young-ha (Review)

Those of you who have been paying attention will have noticed my reviews this year of Dalkey Archive's Library of Korean Literature (four to date with more to come).  However, there's more out there than that particular series of ten books, and in today's post I look at a few stories from a writer who, while not covered in that collection, has plenty of books available in English for you to try.  And, even better, you should be able to find some of these tales online for free...

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Kim Young-ha is one of the big names in modern Korean literature (he's a certainly a name that's come up a lot in most K-Lit discussions I've seen) and after rummaging around some of the outlying corners of the Internet, I was able to find six stories to sample his work.  Some involve murder cases, others look at big-city life in present-day Seoul; one thing they have in common though is that they're all entertaining :)

The first three stories were collected on a PDF I found a while back, and the first is one of his most famous, 'Photo Shop Murder' (translated by Jason Rhodes).  It seems to be a standard crime story and starts with a great hardboiled line:
"Why do murders always seem to happen on Sundays?"
However, as the story progresses, the attention strays from finding the murderer, instead focusing on the detective's marriage and a possible relationship between the two main suspects.  It's a dark story, and the ambiguous ending adds to the sense of depression surrounding the detective.

On the other hand, 'Whatever Happened to the Guy Stuck in the Elevator?' (translated by Jason Rhodes) is a much lighter tale.  A typical Korean salaryman (to use the Japanese expression) is rushing off to work when he sees some legs poking out of the doors of the lift.  Running late for an important presentation, he decides to contact the authorities on the way - if only modern life didn't keep preventing him from doing his civic duty...  And what exactly is so important that he can't be late for work?
"And anyway, I was already late for work, and I had to give my presentation.  It was an important report about more efficient use of office supplies.  To be more exact, I had to get up in front of the trustees and speak clearly and confidently about my plan to reduce the use of toilet paper at the office."
Ah - all is forgiven...

The third story here is 'Moving' (translated by Kim Chi-young), in which a young couple's move to a dream apartment runs into complications.  These include a dust storm, some malicious removal people and an ancient earthenware pot - and there may even be a ghost in there somewhere too ;)

Sadly, despite there being links to this PDF all over the place, it appears to have been removed from its original location.  I suspect that this is because the first two stories are actually lifted from the Jimoondang bilingual edition of 'Photo Shop Murder'.  Unless you have a spare US$2000 lying around though, I'd start looking for the PDF...

Update - 27/4/14
I've just found these stories online again!  The first two can be found on a new PDF here, while 'Moving' can be read on translator Kim Chi-young's (Chi-Young Kim's?) website here :)

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Luckily, though, there are some stories out there to try for free.  Charles La Shure's translation on his web-site of the story 'Christmas Carol' is one.  It's about a man who hears of the death of a Korean woman visiting the country after years abroad in Germany.  The thing is, he used to sleep with her - and he saw her on the night she was murdered...

There are also a couple of stories over at Words Without Borders (one of which appeared while I was in the middle of planning this post!).  'The Man Who Sold his Shadow' (translated by Dafna Zur) is a fascinating tale involving a writer, a Catholic priest and a woman they both used to know.  It's a lovely story, one which obviously incorporates a lot of the writer himself (as you'll see in a moment...).

The other story, one of many in this month's South Korea issue of the online magazine, is 'The Suit' (translated by Sora Kim-Russell), a short tale about a Korean man on a mission in the States to retrieve the ashes of a man who may or may not have been his father.  In this story, we get a twist on the old conflict between nature and nurture - and we also find out whether clothes truly do make the man ;)

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While that's quite enough for one day, there's one last link I need to provide you with.  As I mentioned when discussing 'The Man Who Sold his Shadow', there's a lot of Kim Young-ha himself in the story.  Don't take my word for it though - listen to the man himself :)  Last night, I watched an interview in which he talked about this story, and his latest book to appear in English, Black Flower.  It was all very interesting, and while the writer's English is far from perfect, he talked very well - and was also very funny at times!

All of which means that I'm keen to try more of his work - I'll let you all know when I manage it ;)

4 comments:

  1. Tony - I read Photo Shop Murder a few years ago and really loved it, even though I'm not normally a fan of mysteries. But this one transcended the mystery genre, and I liked how Kim used elements of a traditional thriller to build his story around a crime that remains entirely in the realm of speculation and supposition. It's really shameful that this little book is only available now at such outrageous prices. Anyway, I'm curious to read some of the other works you dug up, and many thanks for the link to the interview.

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    1. Seraillon - No worries :) What I didn't make clear here (but I will with next week's post on another Korean writer) is that the place to go to find a lot of this stuff is Charles Montgomery's ktlit.com, where he has a list of online links.

      I've also just realised that my new part-time job gives me access to the university library, and there's a lot more K-Lit available there than in the public system (so I should be able to try some more of Kim's work soon...).

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  2. Ack, I hated Black Flower. The premise was interesting, but good grief was the writing a slog. And the plotting. And the characterization. And everything beyond the basic history. An outright dull book, which was made even more surprising by the fact that none of the topics covered were actually that boring...

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    1. Biblibio - Well, that's no good; I have a copy of that coming from the library ;)

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