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Other titles in the Weatherhead Books on Asia series:
River of Fire and Other Stories (Weatherhead Books on Asia)by Chong Hui O
Synopses & Reviews
O Chonghui is an immensely accomplished author, having won both the Yi Sang and Tongin awards, Korea's most prestigious prizes for fiction. Translations of her works into Japanese, English, French, and other languages have earned her international acclaim, generating comparisons with Joyce Carol Oates, Alice Munro, and Virginia Woolf. O Chonghui crafts historically-rooted yet timeless tales imagining core human experiences from a female point of view. Together with Pak Wanso (Park Wan-suh), she formed a powerful challenge to the conservative literary establishment in Korea, becoming one of the most astute observers of its society and the place of tradition within it.
These nine stories range from O's first published work in 1968 to one of her last publications in 1994. Her early stories are compact, often chilling accounts of family dysfunction, reflecting the decline of traditional, agrarian economics and the rise of urban, industrial living. Later stories are more expansive, weaving eloquent, occasionally wistful reflections on lost love and tradition together with provocative explorations of sexuality and gender. O makes use of flashbacks, interior monologues, and stream-of-consciousness in her narratives, developing themes of abandonment and loneliness in a carefully cultivated, dispassionate tone. Her nameless narrators stand in for the average individual, struggling to cope with emotional rootlessness and a yearning for permanence in family and society. Arguably the first female Korean fiction writer to follow Virginia Woolf's dictum to do away with the egoless, self-sacrificing angel in the house, O Chonghui is a crucial figure in the history of modern Korean literature, on par with Kim Sowol, Hwang Sunwon, and Yi T'aejun.
"This haunting collection of nine stories from South Korean writer Chong-hui deftly highlights just how distant and indecipherable other people and places can be. The book draws from throughout Chong-hui's career, opening with her breakout story, 1968's 'The Toy Shop Woman.' Each tale is realized through lonely female protagonists, women who have been abandoned — emotionally, literally, or both — or whose children have died, or who drink themselves through aching hours. But beyond the alienation and tedium, the stories resonate with a building sense of maturity, acceptance, and wisdom. In the final and most poignant story, 'The Old Well,' it is the narrator's 45th birthday, and she accordingly contemplates the quiet, unexpected satisfactions of her age: 'I know the flavor I'll get when I mix garlic and ginger; I love the predictability of the washcloth and the dishrag; but I also know that there is a kind of method in an occasional escape into chaos.' Indeed, these somber and observant moments knit otherwise oblique pages together with a fine thread, one that barely separates the desolate from the hopeful, and speaks powerfully to the interrelatedness of the two conditions. (July)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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