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November 2005

Seoul Searching


Economic powerhouse, wounded nation, Buddhist wilderness sanctuary, and this year's guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair, South Korea is as various, as traditional and as modern in its literature as in its landscape.

The distinctive stylist Kim Hoon contributes "To the Longbills at Mangyeong River," a lovely slice of wildlife, while Oh Jung-hee portrays a young girl and her fatherless family seeking all sorts of shelter in a rural village during the Korean war in "Garden of My Childhood." On the urban side of the street, Lee Gi-ho's muscular "Earnie" spotlights a young prostitute who finds stardom as a rapper, and Hwang Sok-yong's "Camel's Eye" follows a young officer's dark night of the soul on the street as he returns to Korea from Vietnam. Perennial Nobel nominee Ko Un is joined by fellow poets Kim Hye-soon, Lee Seong-Bok and Hwang Ji-woo. We thank our guest editor, Ha-yun Jung, for assembling this notable selection.

And in memory of novelist Ba Jin, 1906-2005, one of China's most revered writers, Words Without Borders presents again his story "When the Snow Melted."

To the Longbills at Mangyeong River

From time to time, climbers ascending Mt. Everest or Nanga Parbat stumble upon migrating birds, frozen on snow-capped peaks at 8,000-meter altitudes. The cross-continental flight formation

Garden of My Childhood

Note: The narrator and her family have fled the Korean War and arrived at a small village where they are renting a room from a one-eyed carpenter whose daughter Bu-ne is rumored to have gone


For the rap version of this story, click here. 1 She's here, she's here. Here at the office to see us. The Big Dog, her manager, comes, too. Comes in a bomb-ass Chrysler, his lackeys


This narrative poem is an adaptation of the rap by "El Guante," Kyle Myhre. Read the prose translation here. she was never here the man shouts as he moves about through the office and I

Camel’s Eye

Note: The narrator is a South Korean soldier who has just returned from the war in Vietnam by ship and is waiting on the dock to be transported home by train. At the urging of a young

The Moon

Every time the moon rose, she prayed. Finally Wol-nam's mother, at forty, bore a son. In dreams before pregnancy, she swallowed the moon. After her son was born, Wol-nam's mother would

White Horse

Worrying about a white horse, so white, suddenly barging into my room: What if the horse fills up the room, jamming it, settling in? What if the horse locks me behind its large eyeball, not

Halls of the National Museum

I lost sight of my child in the Yi dynasty hall: Like a forgotten royal concubine, I had been staring at the king's rice bowl, goblet and spoon. I dash back at once to the Goryeo

Taklamakan Desert

Washing her hair as the sun rises a thighless one pours a dipper full of sand over her hair and lowers her head into the sand pit with a splash. The footless one tosses her hair in

blossoming from the body of another

There remained a few graves at the deserted factory site They were torn up, then there were puddles Yesterday the wind blew all day long like a sweltering cotton quilt Rain this morning-a

the white blood you shed

light, a red button in the sky (body, you tremble with cold a white daffodil smiling inside a glacier) light, dropping thousands of gold threads from the spot where it once

that dark cold blue

Winter day, under a short tree The quick hurried steps That dark cold blue light Drawn out by a fleeting glimpse The light entered me Stayed and lived in me There are certain

Diary of the Fat Sofa

I got up early in the morning, brushed my teeth, washed my face, and sat at the table. (Not true. To be honest, when I got up late this morning and sat at the table, my wife asked me to

A Meal in This World

Although Mother survived a crisis and is home from the hospital she's not the same-her mind is hazy. How can I express my sorrow when she insists our guests in black suits are

My Pond, My Sanitarium

When I remove my clothes in the bathroom, there's something else I'd like to remove. I feel within myself an old crepe myrtle dreaming of transmigration, of changing its body


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