The Kim Aeran essay contest: so far, so good

by Philip Gowman on 14 January, 2018 updated 30 March, 2018

in Book Reviews | Korean literature in translation

Kim Aeran Where Would You Like to Go

I struggled with previous KLTI Essay Contests. With There a Petal Silently Falls, having read it three times, I still couldn’t find an angle into it, and although I wrote an essay it was a pretty uninspired offering. With Who Ate Up all the Shinga, I probably enjoyed the book more, but again couldn’t really connect with it (it felt like a history book) and didn’t even attempt to write an essay.

I’m hoping I’ll have something to say about the Kim Aeran texts that have been set for this year’s contest. Even if I really connect with a work I sometimes don’t manage to string together the ideas to write anything coherent about it (for example – I love Krys Lee’s Drifting House, but feel guilty that I don’t know what to say about it and haven’t written anything about it).

But even if I find myself without enough to say about the Kim Aeran texts, so far so good. An initial comment about the first of the set texts that I have read – Where Would You Like to Go?:

I cried. (well, almost)

I was getting to the last couple of pages as I was ascending the escalator at the tube station at the end of my morning commute to work. I got to the last page as I stepped out of the lift in my building. And as I swiped my access card to get out of the lift lobby and onto my floor, I got to the last line.

As I sat at my desk, I really didn’t want to turn my PC on. I just wanted to sit and digest, to mull over what I had just read. With a lump in my throat.

This obviously doesn’t constitute an essay, and I still might not find anything to say about the texts. I certainly can’t relate, yet, to the questions the organisers have set in a well-meaning attempt to stimulate our thinking (maybe they will be more relevant to the other two texts). All I can say is this: that this first text has hit me in the gut like the previous essay contests didn’t.

And that was before I read (in the K-Fiction series by Asia Publishers – it’s not available in the Asia Literary Review version that is the official text) Kim’s comments about how she came to write the essay. Not only did she write it in the summer a couple of months after the Sewol tragedy; she wrote it in a rather inhospitable cottage that she was occupying during her residency in Edinburgh.

I almost don’t want to read the other two texts, because I somehow feel they can’t possibly live up to the emotional impact of the first.

Details of the essay contest can be found here. Entries must be filed by 31 March 30 April (deadline now extended).

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Munire March 16, 2018 at 5:31 pm

Hi there,
I stumbled upon your site while for Kim Ae-ran’s first published short story “No Knocking in This House.” Good luck with the contest and do you by any chance know where I can find the story?

Philip Gowman March 17, 2018 at 10:36 am

As far as I’m aware No Knocking in This House hasn’t been translated into English yet. The database at KLTI seems to be up-to-date, at least as far as it concerns English translations.

Munire March 17, 2018 at 10:44 am

Oh what a pity. Thanks for the info though. Cheers 🙂

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