• Book
  • English(English)


  • Author
  • Country
    Republic of Korea
  • Publisher
  • Published Year
  • Genre
    Literature - Korean literature - Contemporary fiction



    Title: In Arcadia

    Author: Apple Kim

    Genre: Fiction


    LTI Korea staff: Alex Baek ( / +82-2-6919-7741)


  • About the book


     The novel's protagonist Kay hooks up with attractive young woman Summer and her boyfriend Dan in New York City, and begins to experience NYC culture through performances, parties, and drug taking. In the world of the sophisticated, stunning, so-called hipsters, she spends a single glittering summer immersed in a feeling of enhancement. But those dream-like days have to end when she returns to Seoul. Having returned to the life of reality, Kay thereafter comes to feel that everything is dull and trivial, and on one such day in a Hongdae bar she meets Jae-hyeon, who has lived in NYC. And, following a continuous journey around South Korean cities such as Seoul, Gwangju and Incheon, the novel delineates the various people whom Kay meets and the internal pilgrimage she experiences. Kay's rich girls' college friend from the chi-chi Jamsil neighbourhood; a middle-aged man who experienced the counter-culture movement in Germany, worked in cultural planning on his return to South Korea, and now runs a chicken joint in Gwangju; her primary-school classmate Ji-weon who works in an Incheon industrial complex, where he went straight after high school, and his family; through her meetings with such people, Kay comes face to face with the anxiety which pens her in.


     What attracts the gaze is the writerly criticism which wedges its way in to the gaps in the story. Not only the stories which the protagonist and those around her make, but explanation of each character's social background, educational and employment history, is assigned a great deal of weight and narrated in detail, and this plays an important role in the novel's construction. The writer does not forget to append direct criticism on almost all of the characters who appear in the book, including the protagonist and the reality which surrounds her. Such criticism, while at times being consistent with Kay's gaze, and at other times distant from her, unbalances the reader's identification with the protagonist throughout the book. While on the one hand, dialogue which goes beyond raw verisimilitude, which is indeed a characteristic of Kim Sagwa's fiction, accords with such criticism, it also gives rise to an exquisite modulation of perspective which is particular to In Arcadia. While approaching the protagonist's struggles and wandering through earnest emotion, on the other hand the rupture and contradiction which that connotes appears in a clear form. Precisely that is what In Arcadia shows us.


    In spite of the earnest wandering which Kay experiences, nowhere and no one is able to provide her with an answer. Even Jae-hyeon, who had looked to be a sophisticated character who would understand her New York experience, is an actual fact merely a puffed-up, apathetic good-for-nothing, and Ji-weon, who had looked sincere and kind-hearted, the opposite of Jae-hyeon, is unable to accept Kay, who lives in a different world. Even the fried chicken guy whom she'd sought out in order to confide her troubles to, has her embrace a different disillusionment. And at the novel's close, a catastrophe which she could not have expected is revealed even in the world of Summer and Dan. But that is in fact already something innate to Kay. In scorning things which are run-of-the-mill and extending her sophisticated tastes, Kay attempts to shake off anxiety and verify herself, but the fact that the more she does this, the more her struggle to not have herself be precisely so run-of-the-mill and trivial is itself run-of-the-mill and trivial, is the reality which Kay is up against. Having cold description of that anxiety and self-contradictory disillusionment which those who possess the same sensibility as Kay inevitably arrive at intersect with vivid dialogue and frank statements, the novel delineates all these persuasively.


    What the novel thus reveals clearly is the downfall of the world itself, founded on that anxiety and disillusionment. And this is a strikingly different countenance for Kim Sagwa's fiction. If her novels previously made us disconcerted and uncomfortable through fantastical imagery and energy speeding toward destruction, this novel is asking us a question as it thrusts towards us, in a distinct form, the ruptured form of the order of the world which provokes anxiety and disillusionment.


    Of course, is it a discomfiting question which no one can answer. In spite of this, Kay does not stop there in the novel. In spite of it being a world she cannot exit, the novel ends with her making a firm promise “I will not allow myself to overlook anything, to let it flow past, to let it disappear”, and taking an impossible step. We, too, really cannot tell whether she will be able to reach 'beyond myself', if the place where she arrives will be a heaven or a hell. The only thing which we can know for sure is that, just like this one, Kim Sagwa's next story will leave us equally unsettled, and equally captivated. 


    About the author


    Born in 1984, Kim Sagwa began to write fiction with the 2005 short-story collection 02. With her broad understanding of the humanities, an omnidirectional critical attitude towards issues of all social segments, and clannish generational consciousness constructed through ridicule and derision of the older generation, she is known in South Korea as a subversive, defiant writer of the new generation. Her fiction treats of the incomprehensible lives of today's teenagers, who act in a shocking manner, are groundlessly angry, and whose resolute indifference even extends to violence, even murder. In that respect, in does not even adopt the form of the bildungsroman which we would commonly predict. Rather, the young people who appear in Kim Sagwa's fiction readily criticise the way in which the older generation are exploiting them while making them into zombies, how those who have received an advanced education and have at least middle-class status have given themselves over to a bone-deep snobbery. Kim Sagwa's ruthless, vehement criticism of the older generation, which outwardly appears self-centred and rude, is a vindication-cum-protest on behalf of the 'talentless 20-somethings' known as the '880,000 won generation'. 


    About the translators


    Deborah Smith’s translations from the Korean include Han Kang’s The Vegetarian (Portobello Books, 2015) and Human Acts (Portobello, 2016) and Bae Suah's The Essayist’s Desk and The Low Hills of Seoul. She is currently working on further books by Bae Suah, Yi In-seong and Park Sang-ryung, alongside finishing a PhD in Korean Literature at SOAS, and recently founded @TiltedAxisPress, a not-for-profit publisher focusing on translations from Asia and Africa. She tweets as @londonkoreanist


    Media Response/Awards Received


    Rupture and contradiction which exists as clear as day between the world's interior and exterior. Through frank and meticulous critique of the sufferings of our generation of young people, Kim Sagwa is graphically showing the downfall of a world founded on anxiety and disillusionment.

    -Kookmin Daily


    Being attracted by chance to the life of one man. He is a guy who remains as an initial, or as a trace. Imagining his life, understanding it, and therefore writing something, is a reckless desire. Since the initial or trace exists in order to speak the fact that, however much we struggle, our existence is something that cannot be understood. Writing of failure is pre-arranged. Others will remain forever as others. In spite of that, someone writes something. Because there, in the attitude that one will cope with failure, is all the meaning of our lives. Paradoxically understanding our own lives hrough the fact that we absolutely cannot understand others, is witnessed now and then in literature. I Met Roh Ki-wan is precisely such a novel.

    -Novelist Kim Yeon-su


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