The haps and mishaps of life often happen at the same time. This is what I felt while reading Kim Ae-ran’s 2011 novel “My Palpitating Life.” Her humorous writing style stood out in the tragic situation where a 17-year-old boy suffers from rapid aging. Upon meeting this boy, I became fascinated by Kim’s distinctive literary skill. For those allured by the nation’s most prominent writer, I would like to introduce another masterpiece of Kim.
“Summer Is Outside” (2017) is her latest collection of short stories. After reading it, you will not be surprised that it won the Dongin Literary Award, one of the country’s most prestigious literary awards. My sister asked, “What is the book about?” I answered, “It is about those living in summer while their hearts live in winter.”
Seven stories in this book show people who try to overcome the temperature difference of their minds. What does ”temperature difference” mean? Although describing the concept this way may be unfamiliar, most of us have experienced such a difference. You feel depressed, yet the world around you seems to be fine without you. When your friend feels hopeless, you might be happy because of some good news. The intersection of comedy and tragedy comes to everyone’s life.
Faced with this ironical intersection, neither extreme feelings nor hasty judgments are included in Kim’s stories. Rather, she observes the characters’ pain and translates their indescribable emotions into language. The following is my comment on the most impressive story of the book.
“Where Would You Like to Go?” depicts the life of a woman who lost her husband. Her husband, as a school teacher, lost his life rescuing his student during a school camping trip. The woman spends much of her time talking with SIRI, a smart AI system. She mentions that the AI seems more polite than people, who are aggressive and indifferent. This moment reminds us of some people using others’ tragedies as a weapon, such as online haters’ mean comments. Do we really live in the world without having a basic humane attitude towards each other? In current South Korean society, we need to be a human who respects others also as humans. Let us hear the final message of the main character.
“I was still angry at the fact that you had abandoned your life saving someone else’s life. (…) However, an image flashed in my mind where you found a drowning student there that day. It was a picture where one life saw the other life with frightened eyes. At the very moment, could my husband do anything else? Maybe on that day, that hour, there, was it that ‘life’ rushed into ‘life’, not ‘life’ rushing into ‘death’?”
Viewing the drowning student just as an object, the student’s place becomes the death zone. But if you understand the student is also a human being, his place changes into where one saved the other. The lesson is clear. How you think about others makes where you are.
By Lee Jae-won