Here for the first time in English is a selection of short stories representing over forty years of the creative output of one of South Korea’s most prominent contemporary writers. Born in what is now North Korea, Lee Ho-Chul makes use of an astonishing variety of literary styles to offer a panoramic view of the devastating impact authoritarian rule, draconian anticommunism, and particularly national division have had on the everyday lives of Koreans in the latter half of the twentieth century.
A staunch defender of democracy, Lee was imprisoned by the authoritarian Park Chung Hee regime in 1974. In his award-winning “Wasting Away,” Lee offers a stark, dramatic portrait of the overwhelming sense of despair and frustration felt by one family in the tense aftermath of Park’s military takeover. “The Deputy Mayor Does Not Go to Take Up His Appointment” turns to the absurd to explode the psychology of fear pervading Korean society under Park’s rule: The protagonist runs madly away from the very soldiers who have come to make him deputy mayor of Masan.
From the searing realization of refugees in “Away from Home” that they will never see their village in the North again to the chilling story of two brothers forced to dig their own graves after being mistakenly identified as North Koreans by South Korean soldiers in “Birthday Party,” Lee unflinchingly probes the depths of the Cold War ideological polarization that has yet to release its grip on those who make the Korean peninsula their home.