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    Republic of Korea
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    Literature - Korean literature - Contemporary fiction



    Title: The Old Diary

    Author: Lee Seung-U

    Genre: Novel


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


  • About the book


    The French translation of Lee Seung-U’s novel, The Reverse Side of Life, earned him much critical acclaim. The novel depicts a Kafkaesque world familiar to European readers. Kafka’s world of irrationality brings us ethical discomfort, and so does the world of Lee


    For those with a dichotomous view of the world, Lee’s works remain unsettling, for they examine the sense of guilt lying in the depths of the human heart. We could sin against others without knowing it. Yet, even when we do realise what we have done, we feign ignorance. The realization that we have unconsciously committed a sin comes too late, and gone is the time for atonement. Lee delves into these emotional and ethical mechanics of human psychology.  


    The Old Diary, Lee Seung-U’s 9th collection of short stories, is no exception. Most of the stories complied in the collection, including The House of Others, A Storyteller’s Tale, Disappearance, and Room, deal with unconsciously committed sins as well as the ethics of individuals who struggle to write off their debts. The title story, in which the narrator is haunted by his unresolved past (as represented by his old diary), reveals how writing a novel (or writing in general) is not limited to the realm of literature. Rather, it is a reflective process that addresses some of the most profound issues of existentialism faced by people of modern society.


    Lee’s writing exposes us to ‘uncomfortable truths’ hidden under the layers of accumulated memories. Institutional violence is not the only form of violence. We must come face to face with the violence we have or may have unconsciously inflicted upon others. However, at the same time we must forget or ignore such sins in order to survive. The Old Diary can be seen as the author’s confession about our reality that makes us numb to the absurdity found in everyday life.  


    About the author


    Lee Seung-U was born in 1960 in South Jeolla Province in Korea. After studying theology at university, he made his literary debut in 1981. Today, Lee is a leading philosophical novelist of Korea. Throughout his career, Lee has maintained an interest in theological and metaphysical questions, and this is reflected in his writing style that meticulously depicts the inner workings of humans. His works deal with questions about morals arising in the quotidian life as well as more universal issues concerning god, salvation, and guilt. Lee’s novels published after 2000 in particular inquire into the meaning of the reality and the everydayness, thereby bringing together the sacred and the secular, and the mind and the body.


    When the translation of The Reverse Side of Life, a work dealing with the concept of guilt, was published in France, Le Monde made the following comment: “Overly intense at times and exceedingly fluid at others, this moving, weighty novel that emerged from a quiet, serious soul is sure to attract the interest of the true aficionados of literature.”


    Lee’s works include About Solar Eclipse, A Portrait of Erysichton, I Will Live Long, and A Help Wanted Ad. His novel The Private Lives of of Plants has been translated into French and English. Its French edition was published under the title La vie rêvée des plantes by Gallimard as a part of Collection Folio. 


    About the translators


    Helen Cho received her BA and MA in English Literature from University College London, UK. In 2015, she won the 46th Korea Times Modern Korean Literature Translation Award (Commendation Prize in Fiction) for her translation of Lee Seung-U’s short story ‘The Old Diary’. She is currently working as a freelance translator based in Seoul.


    Media Response/Awards Received


    “Lee Seung-U’s first story collection in three years, The Old Diary continues to explore some of the most fundamental questions proposed by the celebrated over the past thirty years. The thematic concerns and characters of the nine stories included in the collection seem more familiar and certainly closer to everyday life than those found in his previous works. The title story, in particular, is the author’s most recent work and is based in large part on his own experience.” (Yonhap News)


    “Lee Seung-U has long been labeled as ‘an author who examines the conditions of men before God’. Indeed, he has written a number of works that delve into the Christian idea of the original sin. With this new collection of short stories, Lee takes a step further and considers the issue of guilt in relation to earthly ethics.” (The Hankuk Ilbo)


Translated Books (29)

News from Abroad (67)