Hwang Tong-gyu (Born 1938, Sukcheon, Yeong yu-gun, Pyeongnam Province)
Hwang Tong-gyu made his literary debut in 1958 under the recommendation of poet Seo Jeong-ju in the monthly Hyundae Munhak, publishing “October” in the February issue and “Letters of Joy,” “The Camellia Tree” in the November issue. A consistently fresh and relevant poet, his work has developed and expanded from lyricism to “uber-lyricism” to expressing the true freedom of being through a series of poems in the style of Zen poetry.
The themes of waiting and longing in his early poems such as “October” or “Letters of Joy” depict a psyche that is full of sorrow and loneliness. He continues to describe this kind of psyche in “Elegy,” showing how the language of the restless can articulate the conflict between self and the outside world. This tension between self and the outside world features regularly in his later work, with the poet’s negation of the obstacles of real life that threaten one’s dreams and ideals becoming his impetus to write poetry. Rather than be overwhelmed by negativity, however, the poet chooses to keep a certain distance from this reality and focus on uplifting the pathos of those suffering under the fascist regime. This theme is continued in such poems as “Song of Plenty,” “Snow Falls on Samnam,” “Yeolha Ilki” in which the poet gives voice to emotion only in a reserved, ironic manner. The pain of living in such a difficult age is given center stage in “When I See a Wheel I want to Roll It” (1978). This piece embodies the poet’s desire to revitalize those already infected by conformist, defeatist thinking regarding the possibility of social change. In his later works the poet embraces a pantheist point of view, discovering the highest order of ecstasy and the meaning of life in all places in such collections as Beware the Alligator? (1986), Journey to Molun (1991), and Strong winds at Mishi Pass (1993). The tension between isolation and unification grows noticeably weaker in these works. In his collection Wind Burial (1995) the poet attempts to overcome nihilism by embracing life and death as one. Through his meditations on death, the poet declares independence from the cycle of life and death as something to be dreaded. His poetry gains even greater flexibility in Unbearably Light Things. The quotidian, casual form of these poems reveals fresh perspective on what it means to live an autonomous life. Hwang’s poetic epiphany that freedom lies in lightness and in freedom, deliverance, is surely the result of his long journey to find beauty in the pathos of man’s struggle against his environment.
The poet is the winner of the Hyundai New Writer’s Award (1968), Korea Literary Award (1980), Yeonam Literary Award (1988), Kim Jong-sam Literary Award (1991), 3rd Daesan Literary Award (1995), 2nd Midang Literary Award (2002), and 10th Manhae Literary Award (2006). He has published the poetry collections One Fine Day (1961), Elegy (1965), Snow Falls on Samnam (1975), When I See a Wheel I Want to Roll It (1978), Beware the Alligator? (1986), Journey to Molun (1991), Strong winds at Mishi Pass (1993), Wind Burial (1995), Alien (1997), Ballad in the Style of Berkeley (2000), I Depended on Chance Sometimes (2003), Silence of the Flowers (2006), 00:05 On a Winter’s Night (2009) and the essay collections Roots of Love (1976), Winter Song (1979), The Light and Shadow of My Poetry (1994), Look Back Wet-Handed (2001), and A Whiff of Life (2008).
Hwang Sok-yong (Born 1943, Hsinking, Manchuria)
This year marks the 50th anniversary of author Hwang Sok-yong’s literary career. His work serves as much as a first-hand account of key events in modern Korean history as fiction, the author having borne witness to and participated in the making of history throughout his considerably dramatic life. Hwang made his debut in 1962 at the tender age of 19 when his story “Near the Marking Stone” won the Sasanggye New Writer’s Award, an event that electrified the public and acclaimed his literary genius. Soon after, however, he dropped out of high school and spent years drifting from place to place, buried in introspection. This period provided him with experiences ranging from physical labor to monastery life to participation in the Vietnam War as a marine.
After the war he began writing in earnest, publishing the story “Pagoda” (1970) based on his experiences in Vietnam. In 1971 he published the novella “Strange Land,” considered one of the definitive works of activist literature written during Korea’s industrial revolution. This was followed by “The Chronicle of a Man Named Han” in 1972, a tragic novella set in the aftermath of the Korean War featuring the adventures of an uncompromising intellectual as he shuttles between the South and the North, and “The Road to Sampo” in 1973, widely considered one of the greatest Korean short stories of all time. “The Road to Sampo” depicts the hard and often lonesome life of travelling laborers whose homes were destroyed by industrialization, and the strong camaradie that binds them together. In 1974 he began writing Chang Kil-san in 1974, a series that would take him ten years to complete. After an unauthorized visit to North Korea in 1989 he fled to Berlin, where he witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall. He returned to South Korea in 1993, whereupon he was promptly arrested and imprisoned until 1998.
The author’s first novel published after his release was The Old Garden (2000). Since then Hwang has turned to traditional East Asian literature for inspiration, incorporating shamanistic and ritualistic motifs in such works as The Guest (2001), Shim Cheong (2003), and Princess Bari (2007). He remains one of the most active writers in Korea today, publishing Hesperus (2008), Dream of Gangnam, and A World Most Familiar (2011).
Hwang’s work is realism at its best, showing an author who has kept true to his belief that ‘life is the best teacher’ and serves a hard-hitting picture of reality, the human spirit, and historical awareness based on a thorough understanding of society from all walks of life. His work has been primarily devoted to the realistic portrayal of Korea’s modernization as seen through such problems as labor relations, the division between North and South, and industrialization, for which it has often been classified as “masculine.” This is understood in the sense that he has always been a powerful proponent for social change. His more recent works, however, is focused on more personal subject matter and the exploration of time, leaning more towards the future than the past.
Yi Mun-yol (Born 1948, Seoul)
Yi Mun-yol is considered one of the most prominent writers in post-1980s Korean literature. His work, conceptual and intellectual in subject matter, is nonetheless widely read thanks to his approachable narrative style. He is also a critically acclaimed writer whose works are famous for sparking debate in literary circles and beyond.
Yi Mun-yol was born Yi Yeol. His father was a communist who defected to North Korea when the Korean War broke out in 1950. For this Yi was ostracized and spent much of his childhood moving from place to place as South Korean society was saturated with anti-communist dogma at the time. The author’s youth was a period of intense internal turmoil as poverty obliged him to drop out of school and he continued his studies on his own, not to mention his suffering from a debilitating illness and struggling as a budding writer. These experiences formed the basis of the autobiographical bildungsroman Portrait of Youthful Days (1981), a moving account of youthful strife.
In 1977 Yi’s short story “Do You Know Nazareth?” won honorable mention in the Daegu Mail Shinmun’s New Writer’s Awards. This is when he started using the pen name Yi Mun-yol. He made his formal literary debut in 1979 when his novella “Song of the Front” won grand prize in the Dong-A Ilbo’s New Writer’s Awards. The same year he won the Today’s Writer Award for Son of Man and began writing in earnest. Son of Man is a fiercely introspective novel that dissected the relationship between God and man in both the religious, metaphysical sense and the existential, human sense. Another favorite theme of the author is represented in “Wild Ox,” a novella set in the Neolithic age that examines the rise of power and artistry. In his novel Hail to the Emperor! (1982) the author offers a piercing account of modern Korean history from the late 19th century, when Japan and other imperial powers were fighting over the country, to the Korean War and the subsequent years of fascist regime. This novel is notable for its sumptuous, classical language, rich references to Eastern classics, and compelling, epic narrative. Yi went on to publish the novella “Our Twisted Hero” (1987), which deals with the problem of power in the final years of the fascist regime using a classroom in a country school as an allegory for actual society. The author is also known for his hugely popular translations of the Chinese classics Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Water Margin.
Eun Hee-kyung (Born 1959, Gochang, Jeonbuk Province)
Eun Hee-kyung gained quick recognition in 1995 when she made her debut with the novella “Duet” and won the Munhakdongne Literary Award for A Gift from a Bird the same year. She is considered one of the most influential women writers in Korea today.
Eun Hee-kyung’s particular brand of cynicism starts with distinguishing the self that is observed from the self that observes. To elaborate, the asymmetric relationship between the “I” observes and the “I” that is observed, or the jaded gaze of the “observer” upon the “observed,” is where Eun’s cynicism and humor is born.
The author’s realistic and intellectual attitude toward life that extends to pondering the fictitious aspect of love is well established from her earliest works such as A Gift from a Bird, Inheritance, and Keep the Last Dance for Me. The author questions whether love is so different from infatuation, exposing the cognitive dissonance that goes with the emotion of love and how romantic relationships are often sustained on lies. The comical mismatch between the romantic ideal of great love and the immature, selfish reality of human nature is played up to de-romanticize love mercilessly. The author’s critical eye does not lend itself to despair or pessimism, however. The cynicism and dysphemism that contends “life is a giant joke” extends to the author herself, turning into refreshingly earnest introspection.
Inheritance (2002) and Beauty Despises Me (2007) mark a departure from the author’s signature ironical style, showing great pathos in a piercing examination of the dark side of life and the emptiness that accompanies it. Her recent works show a greater depth of perception and melancholy about life than before. She continues to expand her creative universe with such works as Please Comfort Boy (2010), a portrait of 21st-century Korean youth as embodied by a boy obsessed with hip hop who is like an “explosive without a fuse,” and Deadpan Life (2012), about the loves and lives of sarcastic novelist Joseph and a mysterious woman named Ryu.
Song Sok-ze (Born 1960, Sangju, Gyeongbuk Province)
Like any writer, Song Sok-ze has his supporters and detractors. None would deny that he is a born storyteller, however. Song writes in the style of oral storytelling about a seemingly inexhaustible range of subjects. One of his most important sources of material is stories he hears from actual travelers. His work thus relies greatly upon experience. The true appeal of his work, however, lies in the author’s ability to mix feature with reality and experience with outrageous jokes to great humorous effect.
Song was born the second son of a large family and enjoyed a rich array of reading material from the pictorial Bible to detective novels, romance novels, religious magazines, and martial arts novels. In university he met poet Ki Hyung-do, whose encouragement inspired him to become a writer. Song made his literary debut as a poet in June 1986, just before graduation. He then worked briefly at a publishing company but quit to travel, true to his restless nature.
He published his first volume of poetry, Ask the Strange Road, in 1991, followed by Black Cow’s Paradise in 1997, but is more known as a novelist than a poet. Song began writing full time in 1993 and published a collection of humorous sketches called Flabbergasts Dwell Here the following year. He continued writing these kinds of pieces and published another collection called Mandarinfish in 1998. His first short story, “The Last 4.5 Seconds of My Life,” was published in 1995. The following year he published his first novel, In Search of the King (1996), and first short story collection, I Became a Bird (1996). He remains a prolific writer today, publishing short story collections The Swell Life (1997), Thus Spake Hwang Man-geun (2002), Dazzling Ecstasy (2003), and the novels Bird of the Palace (1998), I Saw a Tiger (1999) and Chin Up (2012).
Kim In-suk (Born 1963, Seoul)
Kim In-suk has been writing for over thirty years since publishing her first story, "Season of Loss," in 1983. The author’s personal experiences and growth reflected in her work offers a portrait of Korean historical change spanning from the 1980s to 2000s.
Kim’s first published story, "Season of Loss," examines how a couple’s illusions of romantic love are destroyed by differences and prejudice. Both her first story and first novel, Veins (1983), discuss a yearning for freedom and inner liberation that is somewhat removed from the social reality of Korea in the 1980s. Back then it was considered more important to devote oneself to a social cause rather than personal desire.
The author’s work underwent great change in the late 1980s when public resentment towards the fascist regime and establishment reached a critical point, leading to an explosion of reform movements. Her work from this period such as the novel 1979-80, From Winter to Spring (1987) and the short story collection Walking with You (1989) shows a writer determined to confront social injustice directly. Kim established herself as one of the foremost women writers in Korean activist literature, moving freely between such themes as labor, women’s rights, rights of the people, and political activism.
The 1990s ushered in an era of solid democracy and capitalism that put a damper on reform movements. Kim’s novels published in this period reflect this sudden change in the social sphere, focusing on protagonists suffering from self-doubt and ennui. The short story collections Glass Slipper (1998) and Waiting for the Brass Band (2001) are representative of this period.
In her latest short story collection, Goodbye Elena (2009), Kim wrote about learning to live with the scars of time. It would be no exaggeration to say that the resonance of these tales of courage and perseverance comes from the author’s own journey.
Hwang Sun-mi (Born 1963, Hongseong, Chungnam)
Author Hwang Sun-mi recalls growing up too poor to afford other books than those she needed for school, and dreamed of becoming someone strong like a soldier or police officer because she was a sickly child who suffered from weak lungs. Writing was her only entertainment as she was too weak to play outside, and she decided to become a writer when she read a children’s book for the first time as an eleven-year-old. Such was her family’s poverty they could not afford to send her to middle school, so Hwang had to pass the High School Entrance Certificate Exam for Self-study Students to enter high school. As the eldest child she often acted as a mother figure to her siblings, an experience that would prove formative in her future career as a children’s writer. She went on to study creative writing in college and began writing professionally in 1995.
Hwang’s work criticizes the destructive role that civilization plays in man’s organic, close relationship with nature. Her message is primarily one of affirmation, however, rather than criticism, focusing on positive role models that sympathize with the marginalization of those sacrificed by development. Throughout her work the author maintains an optimistic view on humanity and the resilience of nature.
Hwang has written coming-of-age stories such as A Hen that Left the Yard, stories on everyday life such as Secrets I Want to Tell, They Were Invited, and retellings of folk tales such as Little Goblin of Saemmaeul. Her thought-provoking themes, meticulous attention to character psychology, and writing style that is simple yet rich in symbolism resonates with adults as well as children. A Hen that Left the Yard sold over a million copies and was made into a full-length animation in 2011 that attracted 2.2 million viewers, breaking the box office record for a Korean animation. The book was also adapted for the stage and has been running for over ten years as of 2012.
Park Hyung-jun (Born 1966, Jeongeup, Jeonbuk Province)
Park Hyung-jun made his debut in 1991 winning the Hankuk Ilbo New Writer’s Award with his poem “The Power of Furniture.” Park’s poetry moves freely between the scars of the past and the sorrow of the present, rejecting any linear concept of time, sublimating the pain of life into beauty.
The concept of extinction in his first collection of poetry, To Speak of Extinction, (Moonji, 1994), refers to the regenerative power of accepting scars not as a handicap but as an understanding of the fundamental pain and joy of life. Life offers infinitely richer experiences and thought for those familiar with the loneliness and pathos of being. The poet therefore uses vibrant and colorful imagery to describe even the darkest and meanest of times. The Smell of Bread in the Mirror (Changbi, 1997) continues with this theme of compassion and comfort for the marginalized. There is no such thing as time wasted in Park’s poetry, as the act of writing poetry itself is made possible because of his sympathy for dead time. His poetry is inspired by re-imagining events past. In this act even the scars of life dubbed as deprivation are transformed into imagination on wings. This theme is continued in There are Leaves Even inside the Water (Changbi, 2002), where the poet’s memories of his grandmother and mother are articulated in a nostalgia for the origin of being. What makes this possible is the poet’s affirmation of life that even though the space of extinction as embodied by hunger, waiting, and death may lead to tears in the end they may be transformed into beauty. It is therefore no surprise that in Dance (Changbi, 2005) the poet equates light with the human struggle to get closer to warmth even at great cost. The poetry of Park illuminates the darkest and most overlooked corners of life, revealing a great compassion for the lives of those marginalized in a society that consistently demands its members to step over others in the name of economic development. It is a poetry that rewards its readers with relief and absolution. The poet continues with his objective gaze that still captures the innermost essence of the observed in his latest collection, I Cried Every Time (Moonji, 2011).
He is the recipient of the 1st Dream and Poetry Award (1996), the 15th Dongseo Literary Award (2002), the 10th Hyundai Poetry Award (2005), and the 24th Sowol Poetry Award (2009). He has published the poetry collections To Speak of Extinction (1994), The Smell of Bread in the Mirror (1997), There are Leaves Even inside the Water (2002), Dance (2005), I Cried Every Time (2011) and the prose collections Evening Pattern (2003) and Starved for Beauty (2007).
Kim Young-ha (Born 1968, Hwacheon, Gangwon Province)
Kim Young-ha is one of the freshest voices in Korean literature today who has remained consistently relevant and up-to-date since emerging in the literary scene in the 1990s. He has always drawn upon new media in his work, from the internet going back to its dial-up days to computer games to podcasts, and uses it to communicate with his readers. It is therefore no surprise that his work is full of references to new technologies and the latest trends in culture, depicted with great wit and spontaneity. He is known for his literary aesthetic that finds its inspiration in the bustling streets of Seoul. Surprisingly, the author himself was born in the countryside of Hwacheon, Gangwan province, but the family was always on the move because of his father’s job as a military officer. Kim’s ability to adapt to and incorporate new technologies and cultural trends in his writing was perhaps honed in this period of his life.
Kim’s public appeal has been proved time and again with the many adaptations of his work into plays, films, and musicals. He is also well known for undertaking diverse jobs besides that of a writer, from university professor to radio DJ, and for his personal website and podcast “Kim Young-ha Reads.”
Kim studied business administration in university and graduate school, but says he always had an interest in the arts and was a member of a traditional Korean music group in college. His first foray as a writer was a novel of political satire serialized on the web. He made his formal literary debut in February 1996 when his short story “Meditations on a Mirror” was published in the quarterly Review, and gained fame when his novel I Have the Right to Destroy Myself won the Munhakdongne New Writer’s Award the same year. His short story collections Calling (1996) and What Happened to the Man Stuck in the Elevator (1999) showed off his literary prowess in freely drawing upon elements of popular culture such as fantasy, films, and computer games in his portrayal of the desires and angst, narcissism and eroticism of modern urban dwellers. His novel Your Republic Is Calling You by (2006) imagines what would happen if a North Korean secret agent who spent twenty years in South Korea were to be abruptly summoned back one day. He has also written such works as the novels Why, Arang (2001), Black Flower (2003), I Hear Your Voice (2012) and the short story collections Brother is Back (2004) and Nobody Knows (2010).
Kim Seon Wu (Born 1970, Gangneung, Gangwon Province)
Kim Seon Wu made her debut publishing ten poems including “The Old Daegwallyeong Trail” in the winter 1996 issue of Changbi. Writing about the power of man’s connection with nature in face of the destructive and violent forces of modern civilization, Kim’s work attracted attention in contrast with the majority of writers of the same period that drew inspiration from urban life.
The poet’s lively imagery and sensual descriptions based on a keen eye for observation of the minutiae of life shine in her first collection If My Tongue Refused to Stay in my Mouth (2000). Her playful, humorous descriptions of women in the bathroom or boudoir are a refreshing departure from female taboo. This theme is carried on into her second collection, Falling Asleep under the Peach Blossoms (2003), in which the poet becomes a shaman singing the praises of life in front of the temple of the body. Life and death, eating and being eaten, giving birth and being born are part of the body’s everyday miracles in her work. This is evinced in her frequent use of imagery related to blood, tears, amniotic fluid, menstrual blood, urine, and feces as an essential part of the universe. All bodies function as uteri in themselves and are therefore beyond the dichotomy of the beautiful and the ugly, the pure and the unclean, the sacred and the base. Her third collection, Who is it Sleeping Inside my Body (2007), is devoted to the triumph of femininity in its life-giving role of love and inclusion reaching beyond all creations. She continues to explore these themes in vivacious language in her latest collection, To My Infinite Revolution (2012). The poet strikes a chord in the hearts of those struggling with pain and sorrow in a cruel world, offering words of comfort and love. In addition to four volumes of poetry, Kim has published Princess Bari (2003), a fairy tale for adults; I am Dance (2008), a novel based on the life of modern dancer Choi Seung-hui; and a novel inspired by candlelight vigils called Candle Flower (2010), remaining ever attentive to and giving voice to current social issues.
She is the recipient of the 49th Hyundai Literary Award (2004) and 9th Cheon Sang-byeong Poetry Award (2007). She has published the poetry collections If My Tongue Refused to Stay in my Mouth (2000), Falling Asleep under the Peach Blossoms (2003), Who is it Sleeping Inside my Body (2007), To My Infinite Revolution (2012); essay collections When the Moon Rises under the Water (2002), Kim Seon Woo’s Objects (2005), Kisses like Sugar Inside My Mouth (2007); a collection of columns entitled Who Else Lay in this Bowl of Rice (2007); an adaption of the fairy tale Princess Bari (2003); and novels I am Dance (2008) and Candle Flower (2010).
Kim Yeon-su (Born 1970, Gimcheon, Gyeongbuk Province)
Since his debut in 1994, Kim Yeon-su has become one of the most prolific and relevant writers in Korean literature today. Considered “the most intellectual writer of a generation,” Kim draws upon a wealth of humanistic, scientific, and historic data in his fiction. His agnostic beliefs and postmodern experimentation has led to comparisons with Borges, but Kim’s world-view subscribes to more than objective perception. Rather than his postmodernist musings concluding in the cynical, nihilistic shrug that “there is no such thing as truth,” Kim’s undying interest in humanity leads him to ask the question, “where is truth?” His many works all demonstrate this hope and trust in humanity, discussing even the coldest and biggest themes on the warm, narrow plane of love.
Kim’s writing touches upon a variety of themes. His sensibility as part of the generation that started university in the late eighties or early nineties is evident in the short story collections Twenty Years Old (2000) and When I Was a Child (2002). The atmosphere of melancholy and emptiness that followed the fall of socialism in 1991 is in full force here. One of the author’s early triumphs was Goodbye, Yi Sang (2001), a novel based on the life of a writer that left behind some of the most obscure works in Korean literature, combining fact and fiction in a manner that has been lauded as “filling the gaping hole in Korean literature that is the intellectual novel.” His subsequent collection I am a Ghostwriter (2005) was received as his best work ever, including the short story “Going Back to the Snow Mountain on the Moon” that was voted number one by an overwhelming margin in a survey asking readers to pick the best short story in 2000s Korean literature. Most recently Kim has accomplished great success with the postmodern historical novel that focuses on the personal truth of the individual with such works as No Matter Who You Are or How Lonely (2007), Night Sings (2008), and Wonderboy (2012).
Kim is a writer who arrives at the proposition ‘There are some truths that cannot be reached through fiction’ beginning with the proposition ‘Life is a quantity that cannot be understood through logic.’ His characters must battle with parting from loved ones or use their imaginations to trace clues left behind from the dead to move from the latter proposition to the former. They do not stop at reading these clues from the surface, but discover an indescribable quantity between the lines. The failure to arrive at any kind of conclusive truth leads them to another kind of truth and communication. Kim’s intense experimentation with the idea of communication beyond language and dexterity at capturing the fundamental warmth that arise from human relationships are frequently compared to that of Chekhov or Raymond Carver.
Jeong Yi-hyun (Born 1972, Seoul)
Jeong Yi-hyun debuted in 2002 with the short story “Romantic Love and Society.” Her arrival marked a compete departure from women’s literature in Korea up to that point. Unlike her predecessors, who focused on themes such as the schizophrenic inner life of women trapped in the household or the brutality of patriarchy from the victim’s point of view, Jeong’s work occupies a unique position in Korean women’s literature.
“Romantic Love and Society” exposes the emptiness of the fantasies surrounding love, dating, and marriage through the eyes of a female protagonist in her twenties. It also offers a chillingly accurate portrait of how damaged the female psyche becomes in the pursuit of these fantasies in a consumerist society. This eagle-eyed focus on urban women in their twenties and thirties carries on from her first short story collection, Romantic Love and Society (2003), to her second short story collection Lies for Today (2007).
Jeong’s work has been fervently embraced by the same twenty to thirty-something female demographic portrayed in her novels. This speaks to the author’s talent at articulating the desires and psychology of young women living in the big city in a truthful, candid manner. Considered to be the founder of Korean chick lit, Jeong serves up weighty questions along with her frothy, light-hearted prose. As a writer writing for the same demographic as herself, her readers find her work so relatable that her novel Sweet City of Mine (2006) was adapted for television and the stage.
In her second short story collection, Lies for Today, Jeong serves up a measured and detailed portrait of the psyche of middle class women in Korea today. The author highlights the irony of how struggling to live up to the image of a perfect middle class family as demanded by the media often drives these families to the brink of destruction. This attempt at deconstructing the nature of human relationships through the prism of the family is continued in her second novel, You Do Not Know (2009).
Most recently Jeong has collaborated with Alain de Botton in Foundations of Love (2012), a novel devoted to the exploration of love, dating, and marriage.
Kim Ae-ran (Born 1980, Incheon, Gyunggi Province)
Kim Ae-ran made her debut in 2003 winning the first Daesan College Writer’s Award for the short story “Nobody Knocks Here.” Already armed with solid prose and fresh taste, she was a formidable newcomer. She continues to be lauded by critics and readers alike and has emerged as one of the most prominent young writers in Korean literature today.
Since her debut Kim’s work has always been associated with the descriptor “young.” Her favorite subject being the lives of contemporary Korean youth, Kim fully lives up to her title. Her short story collections Run, Daddy, Run (2005) and My Mouth Waters (2007) offer a meticulous portrait of young Koreans watching their youth pass under the shadow of unemployment. Kim’s fiction is a good place to start for those interested in learning the most mundane details of the lives of the average young Korean person today.
Kim’s work is not only remarkable for its realistic depiction of a particular generation. Kim takes an unflinching look at the young generation today for whose very existence is threatened by comparative poverty. Kim gives voice to their inner sadness caused by such problems as poverty, unemployment, love, loneliness, and communication. The sociological questions posed in her work only serves to make it richer.
Kim’s work is never dark or dystopian, however, even though her characters all suffer from some kind of lack in their lives. For this the author’s idiosyncratic imagination deserves credit. For example, in her recently published first novel My Palpitating Life (2011) the protagonist is a child suffering from progeria. The protagonist faces a painful death but chooses to spend the last year of his life writing a novel about his parents rather than wallow in despair. Imagination in Kim’s work is thus the power to survive pain and move beyond sorrow. Her trademark wit and humor is evident in her highly acclaimed first work, Run, Daddy, Run.