The Blurb Appreciation Reviews presents it fourth review!
Quite honestly, it was actually the cover of The Red Room that caught my eye itself, yet it was the detailed back cover or the blurb that finally made me decide to lend the book from the library.
Despite the mention of trauma, I couldn’t help but gawk and be awed at the deep red of the cover and wonder at how pretty it is! Don’t you think so?
My interest in Korean literature is a recent development. So I ideally wanted to pick up this book just to broaden my perspectives about books and stories from Korea. However, since trauma was mentioned, I debated whether I wanted or had the mental space to read something heavy, dense and thought provoking.
But, it was the beautiful blurb that sealed the deal!
The Red Room, translated by Bruce and Ju Chan Fulton, has three stories about “trauma in contemporary Korea.” The stories narrate how traumatic experiences have become a part and parcel for many Koreans especially because of the Korean War and the Gwangju/Kwangju Massacre. The Red Room is bookended by in depth forward and afterword that help the reader to know more about the specific events that the stories in the novel talk about.
A Quick Word
The first story, In the Realm of the Buddha, by Pak Wan-so is about the how a mother-daughter duo have yet to come to terms with the death of their father and brother, twenty years later. It is a heart felt story about what binds the living together, despite their differences in the way they share this unresolved grief.
The second story, Spirit on the Wind, by O Chong-hui is my favourite and employs two point of views to present its story. Un-su is the wife who often abruptly leaves her home at random for short intervals, without any consideration for her husband or son, Sung-il.
Un-su’s husband’s is a first person narrative whereas Un-sun’s narrative is in third person. The husband is obviously perturbed by his wife’s constant disappearances and once, becoming saturated by her actions, he shuts her out and lets her go. There seems to be no rationale to Un-su’s behavior which is what tests her husband’s patience as well. Yet, the story skillfully conveys the hidden trauma behind her seemingly inexplicable behaviour.
The third story is the eponymous one by Im Choru where the story begins with the protagonist, O Ki sop, ruminating about the endless, mundane routine of his life.
This story is also a dual narrative, both first person, which alternates between O Ki Sop’s torture (which includes horrific regular beatings and water-boarding) in the infamous red room and the Section Chief Ch’oe Tal-Shik’s stream of consciousness style of narration that jumps from his current life with this wife and kids and his ailing mother to his childhood, particularly when at Nagil Island he had to witness horrific scenes committed at the hands of the People’a Army. He holds that particular incident as the defining moment that utterly traumatised his father and laid the seed for his intense hatred of the Reds. This hatred is then projected onto those who the police apprehends who are usually associated with these activities.
Which is why O Ki Sop got caught, for alleged Communist activities which is revealed later on.
However, Ki Sop’s initial bafflement and utter confusion at the reason behind his seemingly unjust arrest is reminiscent of Kafka’s The Trial where its protagonist, Josef K, is similarly apprehended without really knowing why and despite facing several layers of bureaucracy, still remains oblivious.
Though the short story, The Red Room, is not as bleak as Kafka’s, it still chronicles the vicious cycle that abuse and violence can unleash on individuals.
And indeed all the three stories of the novel, The Red Room, portray how each person grapples with modern trauma in their own unique way.
This post is part of the Blurb Appreciation Reviews series!
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