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The Reverse Side of Life

by Lee Seung-U

A reluctant biographer becomes engrossed in the life of South Korean novelist Bak Bugil and I guarantee you will too. This is not an easy read as it includes not only the thoughts of the unnamed writer but also his interviews with Bak and excerpts from Bak's novels and autobiographical writings (one of which is named 'The Reverse Side of Life!). The effort to keep up with Lee is well worthwhile though: as long as you remember that his novelist's motto is 'expose in order to conceal' so that when he writes of himself as Oedipus or compares himself to a Dostoyevskyan hero can the reader believe it?

Extract

As he stood there holding the phone, listening to his mother's request, he had already made up his mind. When he had run away after setting fire to his father's grave, he had resolved never to return to his home town, no matter what. His home town was forbidden territory. He banned himself, vowed he must never return there. As his uncle had done during his childhood, he pronounced the ban on himself. His uncle had told him, Don't go round the back yard. He told himself, Don't go back to your home town .... His home town was the back yard of his youth where the persimmon tree stood.
Translated by Yoo-Jung Kong

Parallels

The Outsider by Albert Camus
 

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