Korean writer Ch’oe Myŏngik was a lifelong resident of Pyongyang, a city his short stories masterfully evoke in exquisite modernist prose. His career spanned decades of tumult, from his debut in the 1930s while Korea was under Japanese colonial rule through the Asia-Pacific and Korean Wars and the early years of the Democratic People’s Republic. As Pyongyang transformed from Korea’s second city, peripheral to the Seoul-centered literary scene, into a socialist capital in the late 1940s, Ch’oe briefly ascended to the center of North Korean culture. Despite the vitality and originality of Ch’oe’s writing, Cold War politics and censorship, including South Korea’s anticommunist laws, consigned his work to obscurity.
Patterns of the Heart and Other Stories presents a selection of Ch’oe’s short fiction in translation, including later works from hard-to-find North Korean publications. These cinematic, keenly observed tales explore Pyongyang in meticulous detail, depicting the city’s transformations and the conflicts between old and new. They pay close attention to the lives of the disaffected and the marginalized: a drifter confronts a former revolutionary dying of heroin addiction; a sex worker is trafficked across the border aboard a train, amid the indifference of her fellow passengers. Later stories provide a striking glimpse of the Korean War—the occupation of Pyongyang, U.S. fighter jets bombing civilian refugees, guerrilla heroics—from a North Korean perspective. Hidden treasures of world literature, these stories offer new perspectives on Korea’s turbulent twentieth century, across political divides still in place today.
Ch’oe Myŏngik was born in Pyongyang in 1903 and resided in the city all his life. The son of a merchant, he ran a small factory while pursuing fiction writing as a sideline in the 1930s. His writing was acclaimed for its modernism and explorations of a city and its inhabitants in flux. His date of passing is unknown.
Janet Poole is chair and associate professor of East Asian studies and distinguished professor of the humanities at the University of Toronto. She is the translator of Yi T’aejun’s Eastern Sentiments (Columbia, 2009) and Dust and Other Stories (Columbia, 2018).
Source: publisher’s website
Introduction: A Dislocated Art and Life
- Walking in the Rain
- A Man of No Character
- Spring on the New Road
- Patterns of the Heart
- Ordinary People
- The Barley Hump
- The Engineer
- Young Kwŏn Tongsu
- Voices of the Ancestral Land