Book Reviews

Reviews of Korean titles published overseas

Book Review Japanese(日本語)

[Japanese] Believing in the Possibilities of “Another Story”: Twelve Women Already Dead by Bak Solmay

by Aoko Matsuda, on April 18, 2022

  • English(English)
  • Japanese(日本語)

Bak Solmay’s TwelveWomen Already Dead is a collection of short stories compiled forpublication especially in Japan. The copy on the book’s bellyband says that theauthor “confronts social issues such as the Gwangju Uprising, the meltdown ofthe Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor, and femicide” with her “uniqueimaginativeness.”

I cried so much I emptied a full box of tissueswhile reading Han Kang’s Human Acts. I saw A Taxi Driver, starring Song Kang-ho, in theaters, andleft with my handkerchief soaked in tears, a newly made fan of Ryu Jun-yeol,who I first saw in that film. Whenever I see or hear the word “Gwangju,” Ithink, I know. I know. What happened there, at least, I know.

“Social issues such as the Gwangju Uprising,the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor, and femicide.” I knowthe stories that are told along with these words, I think. So I prepared myselfmentally before opening this book. No matter how painful the story, I mustaccept it, stand with the victims, and swear anew from the bottom of my heartto never let these atrocities be repeated.

But on those pages, I found a space I had neverimagined spreading out before me. If I were to put it into words, it was aquiet willfulness that refused to simply move the reader, refused to let themcome close.

The characters that appear in Bak’s stories areconfused. So confused that it makes the reader pull back and ask, “Do you haveto be so lost?” There were times when the characters themselves couldn’t accepttheir confusion. A certain credulity I had expected was missing, and thecharacters didn’t feel the things I expected them to feel. The world theylooked upon was in constant flux, and they continued to change as well. Theywouldn’t let me think, I know.

In “Swaying into the Dark Night,” Busan Tower,which the main character is certain should exist in front of Busan Station,vanishes from their mind, transforms, and when they actually visit the spot,has actually disappeared. In “Beloved Dog,” the narrator has no faith in theirrecollection of 1994, which they must have lived through. When they think backto the year, “a variety of feelings and sensations” well up, yet they alsorecall without the slightest emotion “incidents, numbers, and people’s namescarved into my mind by the words I saw in newspapers.” In “The Eyes of Winter,”two characters watch a documentary about the Kori Nuclear Power Plant anddiscuss how they wish they could have seen different kinds of movies. And inthe title piece about femicide, the narrator evades telling us how they feelabout either murdered or living women, including themselves. In “Well, WhatShall We Sing?” the narrator, a Gwangju native joining in an event for studentsin San Francisco interested in learning Korean, listens to the stories toldabout the Gwangju Uprising while thinking about how they had expected “lighter”conversation. On the uprising’s thirtieth anniversary, the narrator visits theSouth Jeolla provincial office building that was the site of a massacre duringthe uprising. They think, “the people who actually know what happened here,maybe they’d tell us another story. Something that we haven’t talked aboutyet.” It seems Bak is always considering the potential of “another story,” thatthere is always “another story” behind everything that happens.

In Japan, when someone creates a fictional workportraying actual incidents or events, I often see the “timing” of taking upthose topics debated on social media. Isn’t it too early? It’s not yet over forthe people who experienced it, they say. But these incidents never end.Suffering and sadness don’t heal with the passing of time, and events that havebred resentment in society are always passed on and stay in this world.Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as perfect timing.

If that’s the case, maybe one way an author canapproach fiction with “integrity” is by quietly placing “another story” in somecorner of this world. “Another story,” different from what we are all convincedwe know. Bak writes about the lives of those of us who, in the face of theseatrocities, cannot turn back time or save those who have lost their lives, whohave no choice but to go on living out their lives in the places where thoseatrocities happened, where they still happen, and where they sometimesseem—though maybe not—to have come to terms with this past. The “other stories”she creates have a sedating effect, returning those of us who always wind upthinking “we know” back to a state of ignorance. Of course it is important toknow history and the facts, but it is not a bad thing to be forced to remember,“That’s right, I don’t know anything.” And that is how these stories will makeyou feel.



Translated by Kalau Almony


Aoko Matsuda

Author, Wherethe Wild Ladies Are (Soft Skull Press, 2020)











Aoko Matsuda

Author, Where the Wild Ladies Are (Soft Skull Press, 2020)

Keyword : Twelve Women Already Dead ,もう死んでいる十二人の女たちと,Bak Solmay,パク・ソルメ

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