Imagine Cormac McCarthy writing about the boring lives of clerks and you’ll anticipate something of the dystopic flavour of this gripping but socially bleak short story from Hwang. In a Korean world in which education has historically meant everything, the narrator realizes both that this is not true (through her partner in an essentially loveless affair) and that the recognition of this fact does not surprise her at all. The narrator is drawn into a larger story when she refuses to sell cigarettes to Jinju, a young woman in the company of two men who subsequently goes missing.
From the Yeoyu collection, a selection of eight short stories translated from Korean, in collaboration with publisher-activist and translation trailblazer, Deborah Smith, and featuring writers such as Han Kang and Bae Suah, among others less familiar to an English-speaking audience.
여유, Yeoyu, means something like ‘scope’ and/or ‘relaxed’ in English; scope to be yourself, to follow your own interests. In some ways it means the opposite of being constrained by convention, more to be unbounded in such a way. In a sense, it means to be oneself but with enough ‘left over’ — for others, maybe.
It is intended to capture the diverse range of themes and styles the series, and Korean literature far more widely, has to offer the curious reader and also to say something figurative and fun about the act and process of translation.