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Each year we open up our pages to writing and cultures from different corners of the globe, and in this latest instalment of the World Series we turn our focus to Korea.
Like it or not, president Donald Trump has managed a feat no other sitting president has – as I type this a date has been set, June 12, for a meeting in Singapore between two leaders who not long ago were throwing insults at each other. North Korea’s Kim Jong-un was dubbed by President Trump as the “little rocket man” and a “sick puppy”; Trump threatened Pyongyang with “fire and fury”, while the little rocket man disparaged Trump as a “dotard”. Not so today: they are in full bromance mode, and when the two leaders meet on June 12 the eyes of the world will be watching, with many hoping for success. When, in the sweltering heat of Rajastan last January, I first started putting ideas together for a Korean edition, this meeting was barely imaginable; no one could have foreseen it, except maybe the US basketball star Dennis Rodman, who had been calling for a meeting between the two leaders for quite some time. Dennis Rodman for US Ambassador to North Korea? Stranger things have happened.
In the Korean peninsula, certainly for the past three decades, it’s the South that has embraced global culture; South Korea has became Asia’s leading exporter of culture – producing music, movies and television dramas. And in fact it’s the South (for obvious reasons) that we turned to for support in realising this edition. We were helped by a translation grant awarded to the magazine from the Translation Institute of Korea, and it is voices from the South that we have gathered within these pages to bring you what we hope is a better understanding of this fascinating region – on whom the sun seems to be shining at the moment.
Our cover artist is Zena Holloway, Photographer, Zena Holloway, works almost exclusively underwater the technical aspects of working in water combined with superb creative direction increases the striking imagery she captures. In this edition Zena’s series titled Sea Women accompanies “Sea Mothers”, by Janet Hong, a beautiful poetic dive into the lives of the haenyeo, or Korean sea-women divers.
The issue opens with South Korean author and translator Bae Suah, whose writing departs from the tradition of mainstream literature; she has created her own literary world based on a unique style and a knack for psychological description. She gives us here a surreal tale of a writer and a dog, “While a Tibetan Dog Howled”. Anton Hur’s essay “How to Write Queer Korean Lit: A Manual” does what its title promises.
We have five poems by the classic early-twentieth-century avant-garde Korean writer Yi Sang. And we present an extract from Mary Lynn Bracht’s novel White Chrysanthemum (Chatto & Windus), in which the heartbreaking history of Korea and of its “comfort women” is brought to life in a moving and redemptive debut that follows two sisters separated by World War II.
There’s art by Kyung Eun You, “Where Are We Now”, a series of linoleum print cuts in comic-strip format, dealing with the loss of the artist’s mother and her father’s depression and alcoholism, in an immigrant family in the United States. Edward Howell’s essay “South Korea is what North Korea is not” explores the differences between those two nations.
Moving into sf territory, “Are You Gonna Keep This Up?”, by Park Min-gyu, looks at a brief almost-friendship on a doomed earth, while a flash fiction by Kangmyoung Chang, “Highly Personal Superpowers”, offers a not-so-heroic take on the superhero genre.
“Unidentified Flying Objects”, by Samantha Kim Rogers, explores a Korean American girl’s relationship with her ill father and his work. “The Little Hedgehog”, by LP Lee, offers a fable of North–South relations in the Korean peninsula. “Sea Mothers”, by Janet Hong, accompanied by beautiful underwater photography by Zena Holloway, is a poetic dive into the lives of the haenyeo, or Korean sea-women divers. And for online extras, go to litro.co.uk to find two longer stories: Yun Ko-eun’s “Sweet Escape”, a Kafkaesque piece about an obsessive battle with bedbugs, and Choi Jae-hoon’s “An Untold Case of Sherlock Holmes”, in which the great detective investigates the murder of a certain famous writer…