The World's Literature: Latin America discussion

"Lonesome You" short stories by Park Wan-suh

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message 1: by Betty (last edited Sep 05, 2019 03:23PM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3593 comments "... That's interesting. You have quite an imagination, more poetic than mine."

Lonesome You is a collection of short stories by Park Wan-suh (1931-2011), a paragon of Korean literature. One might either be intrigued with the life situations surrounding older women or left wondering what there is appealing about the characters or flow of the plots. Considered here is the lead-off story 'Withered Flower." A widow about to turn sixty takes a train to attend pyebaek, the post-wedding family ceremony, of her nephew. She expects that traditional mores of the observance and the overnight stay are planned. Being the surviving Aunt, the sole elder on the paternal side, she has a vital role of respect due her in the ritual. She arrives wearing a ceremonial hanbok of abundant material. Disappointedly, the party omits all the customs. Skipping ahead, she meets a 'dapper' widow wearing an aquamarine stone in a ring — that coincidence ties into the beginning. The romance goes exhilaratingly well like a 'dream' fantasy in real life until her daughter and his daughter-in-law encourage a more permanent relationship.

"When fantasies come true as in a dream, the reality bares no difference from the dream itself."

message 2: by Betty (last edited Sep 06, 2019 09:37PM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3593 comments The title "Psychedelic Butterfly" comes from the character Young Joo.
"Perhaps it was the over-sized monastic robe hanging from her small frame, but Mother looked like a butterfly resting with its wings neatly folded [...] It was the freedom, the lightness of being released from all the things that weighed her down in this life."
The theme of this narrative is family life. Where best to start with that theme than houses lived in and left for another. The opening features one of those buildings standing the test of time so long that no one remembers its origins, while around it a series of changes redevelop the former agricultural lands. The next sections of the story entirely break from that scenario, leaving the reader wondering what happened and how odd.

The narrative makes a switch to something new. A modern and ambitious fortyish woman Young Joo, her spouse, one of her children and her nurturing Mother reside together. The latter has the one fault of leaving home unbeknownst to anyone and not returning. As everyone tries to figure out her whereabouts this time, she disappears for several months.

The next unusual scenario begins with a young psychedelic turned Buddhist nun, whose maternal parent, called mammy by her daughter, thinks that greater riches can come in by changing the 'fortunetelling' business to a 'Buddhist sanctuary' known for its 'divine powers.' A dispute between the most elder monk and mammy further advances the woman's gain.

How the author connects the long-standing house with the Grandma running off and the girl of the temple all makes sense in the end for the reader and Young Joo.

message 3: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3593 comments An Unbearable Secret contains the hint of a psychological mini-thriller. Its main character, a woman Ha Young, features in at least two stages of her life -- the first summer of college and the era around forty years. Travel in contradictory weather through and after the Daekwan Pass echoes the sharply defined reversals of her moods. In the beginning, her mercurial response to an unknown corpse on a beach elicits bewilderment from the hovering crowd. Near the conclusion, her mind links unrelated past and present tragedies while considering that a correction in thinking might be necessary because of life's coincidences.

Moreover, she links her physical presence to the occurrence of the tragedies. From that new information, the reader has a clue for her seeking seclusion in prior scenes. All that strangeness might point to imaginary thinking were not the final paragraph raising more unease for the reader.

message 4: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3593 comments
"No one wants to watch a long, boring movie a second time. But when the movie is profound and abstruse, one might watch it again hoping to understand it better." -- Park Wan-suh

The short story "Long Boring Movie" occurs at the time in adult children's lives when s/he might become the caretaker of a parent. How do the characters feel about aging?

Near the beginning, a group of older women gathers in the 'well-tended' backyard of this narrative's family. With a bit of humor, each woman speaks openly on a bothersome physical or mental hardship which would be the last straw for her.

Following that conversation al fresco, the scene moves to focus on the adult daughter, the oldest son, and Mother and Father. The irony is the characters' family life which misses the mark of Korean cultural expectations. Instead of the Elder brother, his sister becomes the caretaker of Mother and probably of Father as well. He has a reasonable excuse for not fulfilling his duty that's mixed with shame when keeping up appearances. As for the parents, their arranged marriage from youth turns into a kooky relationship, characterizations that I would spoil by telling you.

message 5: by Betty (last edited Sep 10, 2019 08:28PM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3593 comments "Lonesome You" is the signature story from the book's title. The plot involves a family and in-laws participating in life's celebratory events, such as their children's wedding and university graduation with the busy cameras marking the day for future remembrance. The principal character is the mother of the married daughter, the married graduating son, and the son earning an advanced degree in the U.S. She also runs a small business, which goes under when a department store comes to the neighborhood. The relationship with her son's mother-in-law at the ceremony is one of suppressed resentment at perceived insults. Also significant to the narrative is her husband from whom she separated. A retired school principal, he still fulfills his sense of a patriarchal duty to send her most of his pay. The extended family arrives to see and photograph the young married man along with his wife graduating with a swarm of other students. Her conversation with the son's mother-in-law turns into a mind game over a present for the graduates. Those feelings of dislike start the ball rolling for a marvelous second half.

message 6: by Betty (last edited Sep 14, 2019 06:47PM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3593 comments That Girl's House might be the best so far in this volume of short stories. The beginning of it extensively describes an idyllic Korean village of natural beauty and abundance before the wars. A single quote does not do justice to author Park Wansuh's description of vegetation and streams
"Our village was a beautiful place. When the apricot trees came into full bloom, milk vetches and violets covered the fields and knolls."
The narrator, a literary female who lived there long ago, looks back in time before the 38th parallel to tell about the villagers there and a promising girl and boy, named Gop-dan and Man-deuk. Her memories revive while she reads a poem by her favorite poet
Kim Yong-taik
. She also brings Kim Uk's Dance of Agony [xxx-xxxiv], the earliest Korean translation of Western literature, and the writer Choonwon into the narrative.

The openness to influence from the West in its literature of strange lands and habits and through its imperialism eventually brings unforgettable regret. The wars devastated village life in food shortages and craven local leaders, sending away the men and victimizing the women. The country's division into north and south permanently separated the populace. The tale ends years afterward at an annual reunion when the former youths have turned old, and the present ones have not the same remembrances.

message 7: by Betty (last edited Sep 15, 2019 04:20PM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3593 comments "Thorn Inside Petals" is a family story in which the migration from Korea to the United States and sometimes back for education and employment sets the background. The narrator has an Elder sister in America whose son Jang Woo works in Korea. The personal decision to move or stay has consequences for togetherness. Characters stay in touch with cross-Pacific telephone calls and, occasionally, long-distance visits as for a special occasion.

A reunion of the family encapsulates the plot when Jang Woo decides to marry. The seventyish Elder sister, aka his mother, arrives from sunny California, having stuffed a taped duffle and a Louis Vuitton handbag with gifts sent from the American relatives.
"My sister immigrated to the United States in the 1960s, so more than thirty years have passed. During that time, she never once set foot in her home country.
She arrives in a 'garish' outfit with makeup and hairstyle to boot, but soon arouses curiosity and builds suspense about the bags' contents. On the one hand, the narrator (the younger sister) wonders whether she seems clueless about everyday Korean life.
On the other hand, she shares anecdotes about life in America. Then a disconnect about wedding protocol happens in earnest regarding some items she displays. Those concerns lead to confrontational overseas communications for an explanation. The last part is her fictional autobiography set in America. If there is a universal conclusion reached, it is in the final line -- that it is hard "to shake off" what is "ingrained in me by years of culture and tradition."

message 8: by Betty (last edited Sep 19, 2019 07:50AM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3593 comments Initially, "A Ball-playing Woman" seems to be a pleasant, short story about finally hitting it rich with the addition of some unresolved suspense. Uncertain undertones in the opening paragraphs stem from an artwork titled 'Pain of Existence,' which the main character Aran stumbles upon in a once flourishing sculpture park. After that flashing light, there are two or more characters whose lives demonstrate the occasional mismatch in life, of working towards a goal and having to start over without reaching it.

Thirty-year-old Aran is unmarried and beautiful, holding a dead-end job. Her employment, which requires a uniform, is without marital and material prospects,
"a job that led nowhere for women after years of devotion and hard work."
One diversion is her visit to a formerly flourishing sculpture park. There, she retrieves a wayward rolling ball for a family only to find them impatient and walking away. The incident turns to the good by her engaging in play with it, agilely pushing it to and fro between her feet. Adjacent to the park, she owns a multiplex near an area of displaced families in rented mini spaces. She is proof that a modicum of success is possible, but further experiences await her.

This narrative is somewhat of a coming-of-age story as she encounters other opportunities and situations in which she seems to exert control which might not be in her best interests. At first, she places her future happiness in the hands of Hun, altogether a cruel boyfriend, a fourth-time dud on the bar exam and a mooch.
"What Aran had clung to was not Hun's tired body; it was the hope that one day, oh, someday, a butterfly would emerge from the cocoon and spread its wings."
She's also emotionally attached to her tenant Miss Kim. Like Hun, Kim is goal-oriented but always drops the ball. To quit smoking never succeeds because of "the respite it provided from her crappy life." Aran can't help but go along with that reasoning in her own life. Similarly, Miss Kim's obligations to family members always interfere with completing the savings plan to maturity.

Early scenes foreshadow what is to come. Aran's unannounced 'windfall' creates a possibility of separating herself from Hun, Miss Kim, and her employment.
"Thirty-five times that -- this calculation gave Aran a realistic understanding of her windfall. Her sense of self swelling up like a balloon, she floated up from the edge of the disfigured sculpture that had been the subject of an absurd pseudo-philosophy."

"Could all this be a mere dream? She wanted to share this surreal freedom with someone so that it wouldn't blow away like a puff of smoke."
Miss Kim is not the character to whom she would confide. The reader learns more about Aran's birth, her father Chairman Jin Hyukboo and mother, the fatherless girlhood which continued to recognize his birthdays, and her good fortune after years of rejection from his family. It is that turnaround in her material circumstances by which the author opens the door to a perennial question about human nature and destiny.

message 9: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3593 comments The story "J-1 Visa" reads like nonfiction. It's about a bureaucratic nightmare. An East Asian conference in the United States invites the teacher Lee Chang Gu's participation with regard to his book translated into English. Though his valid tourist visa would do for the international trip, the organizers stipulate a specific kind of visa for it to distribute funding. The delays, the false hope of an extension, the unsuccessful redos, the insinuation by the embassy, and even a personal connection frustrate everybody.

message 10: by Betty (last edited Sep 21, 2019 08:44AM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3593 comments "An Anecdote: The Bane of My Existence" is about a writer's experience with a malfunctioning, yet beloved, computer. That subject might seem less than an exciting one. Even so, Park Wan-suh's writing, describing the technical situation and various attempts to assess and repair it by "gurus," leads to a humorous conclusion with a home visit by a repair person. The misunderstood words in the two characters' conversation is an amusing finish.

message 11: by Betty (last edited Sep 21, 2019 08:44AM) (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3593 comments Park Wan-suh's novella Mother's Stake I Mother's Stake I (Bi-lingual Edition Modern Korean Literature, Volume 4) by Pak Wan-So , is first in a trio and is worthy of reading. My statement about it is here.

There also is My Very Last Possession and Other Stories My Very Last Possession and Other Stories by Park Wansuh , perhaps an ebook in the library for readers who want the opportunity to read more of her work.

message 12: by James (new)

James F | 118 comments I realized when I read these that I had forgotten to post my review, although compared to your analyses of all the stories it doesn't add much.

Park Wan-Suh, who died in 2011, was one of the best known women writers in Korea; this is a collection of ten of her short stories, which I read for the World Literature group on Goodreads. To be honest they were all rather depressing; they nearly all concerned people, mostly older women, who had deprived themselves of any happiness in life largely through their own pride or stubbornness, although social conditions played a role in some of them. The stories were good in terms of characterization and structure, although I wasn't impressed by the actual writing -- which of course may be the fault of the translation. I don't know whether the author or the translator is responsible for the "deep navy . . . aquamarine", which put me off from the third sentence of the book.

The first story, "Withered Flower", concerns a woman in her sixties, who forms a relationship with a man (who wears a dark blue aquamarine set in a platinum ring!) but ultimately breaks up because she considers herself too old for love; the second story, "Psychedelic Butterfly" (I'm not sure what the title is supposed to suggest) is about an elderly woman suffering from dementia who wanders off and ends up as a sort of Buddhist nun; "An Unbearable Secret" is about a woman who abandons her family because she considers herself a bearer of doom; "Long Boring Movie" is about a woman who is a caretaker for her elderly parents; the title story, "Lonesome You", is about a woman who resents her husband and just about her whole family; "That Girl's House" is about a couple of young lovers separated by World War II and the division of Korea; "Thorn Inside Petals" is about a woman obsessed with burial clothes; "A Ball-laying Woman" is about an illegitimate daughter; "J-1 Visa" is about a Korean writer trying to get a visa to attend a seminar in the United States; and "An Anecdote: The Bane of My Existence" is about an older woman writer's problems with a "senile" computer.

message 13: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3593 comments James wrote: "...Park Wan-Suh, who died in 2011, was one of the best known women writers in Korea; this is a collection of ten of her short stories ..."

While I enjoy Park Wansuh's stories, in my opinion, the longer ones, such as the novella Mother's Stake I flow better.

message 14: by James (new)

James F | 118 comments Where did you find that? The only novels I see on Amazon are Who Ate Up All the Shinga and The Naked Tree.

message 15: by Betty (new)

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3593 comments The spelling of her name is inconsistent. Pak Wan-sŏ you might try.

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