Dust and Other Stories by Yi T’aejun, translated by Janet Poole [in Booklist]
During Japan’s brutal occupation of Korea (1910–45), marked by systematic suppression of the Korean language, culture, and identity, Yi T’aejun produced stories that were “considered among the best of his time.”
Translator Janet Poole’s impressive introduction not only contextualizes Yi’s significance in the Korean canon but champions the rightful restoration of his erased stature, an unfortunate result of Yi’s 1946 Seoul-to-Pyongyang move. With Korea’s 1950 separation came the censorship of Yi’s work on both sides of the thirty-eighth parallel until 1988, when South Korea lifted laws prohibiting publication of writers who emigrated north. Details about Yi’s postwar life and death remain unknown.
From Yi’s first published story, “Omongnyŏ,” to one of his last known, the titular “Dust,” written post-emigration, Poole reconnects Yi’s surviving oeuvre from South and North. Loosely linked by Yi’s alter ego, writer Hyŏn, these stories capture precarious daily life under occupation, the challenges of liberation, and the ensuing chaos of U.S. military control. Extraordinary as both historical record and illuminating literature, Yi’s stories reveal modern Korea through the voices of young women unbroken by destitution, lonely traitors searching for companionship, aging friends reliving lost youth, jobless men dreaming of comfort, even truculent old women finally lured into literacy.
Published: 2018 (United States)