During the beginning of this month, I went to a store and bought a book. The book turned out to be Weathered Blossom (마른 꽃), one of Park Wan-suh’s novellas, but at the time I didn’t know that. I only wanted a thin and pretty book with depth, so that’s what I picked. I didn’t read any descriptions or reviews or anything else besides the title. My concern didn’t extend that far.
I told myself that if it were thin, I would read it. Even if the plot and characters were horrid, the work, as a whole, was bound to be fascinating because it represented a genre I’d never experienced: Korean literature in Korean. An English translation even came with it, which meant that I would keep dictionaries far away from me.
Weathered Blossom is told from an often ignored perspective. Its protagonist is a grandmother. Teenagers saving the world, 20 year olds coming into their own, Prince Charmings marrying poor young girls–none of that overdone stuff has anything to do with this.
Still, when I was about 27 percent into Weathered Blossom, I decided that it was going to be a “love story.” I confirmed my suspicions by finally reading the description on the back cover: this was a “love story.”
Mere moments before I finished the “love story,” all of my conviction about it being a “love story” disappeared. I didn’t even know what conviction was. I only had my blank reaction that had been caused by confusion and a buffering brain trying to find sense in the scanty information the protagonist gave me. Basically, I had no idea about what it was that I had just read and I didn’t like that I didn’t get it because I get stories—I don’t blank out in confusion—but this one had been different from beginning to end and it insisted on being difficult too.
Determined to get something, I read the analysis of the story and even a translation, but the translation didn’t have any meaning. It contained words, of course, but their arrangement was so awkward and foreign that despite them being in English and grammatically correct—in the context of the story, it was hopeless. Phrases like “sensible politeness,” “charming facade,” and “sentimentality” were too vague. They meant nothing.
But then I saw this:
Even with careful thought while reading, it’s difficult to know what’s truly going on inside the elderly woman’s mind.
(작물을 읽는 동안 내내 눈치를 살펴도 그 진정한 속마음을 읽어낼 수는 없었던 것 같다.)
I had been trolled. Ironically, what I didn’t get was that there wasn’t something to get. People are complicated. They have baseless fears and strange motivations. Sometimes, things end reasonlessly, abruptly.
At any rate, reading about Korean characters in Korean is fun because Korean characters have a tendency to dwell on things that Americans have trouble simply conceptualizing and it turns into an awkward bloody mess when translators go after them (family terms, I’m looking at you).
I already picked up another book. I went with the same method, except I switched “pretty” for “interesting.”