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Unlived Memories: Then What Shall We Sing? by Bak Solmay

by Claire Lee October 27, 2014

그럼 무얼 부르지

  • Bak Solmay
  • Jaeum and Moeum
  • 2014
  • 9788957077931

Bak Solmay

Bak Solmay embarked on her literary career in 2009 with her debut novel Eul, which won Jaeum & Moeum’s inaugural New Writer’s Award. She has since authored the novels I Want to Write a Hundred Lines, Time in the City, Slowly Head First, and the short story collections Then What Shall We Sing?, Winter’s Gaze, Beloved Dog, and International Night. Her latest novel is Future Walking Rehearsals. She has received the Moonji Literary Award, Kim Seungok Literary Award, and Kim Hyeon Prize.

None of us have memories of the time before we are born. Yet emerging Korean author Bak Solmay’s first collection of short stories, Then What Shall We Sing?, is a unique effort to remember those times, including a traumatic event which involves a massacre.

The collection is comprised of a total of seven stories, but its title story is arguably the most important. Bak was born in Gwangju in 1985, five years after the Gwangju Massacre took place in May 1980. The protagonist is essentially Bak’s stand-in; the young woman was born and raised in Gwangju, but didn’t witness the massacre of the approximately 200 pro-democracy demonstrators by former President Chun Doo-hwan’s military regime.

The story revolves around her encounters with non-Koreans in Berkeley, California and Kyoto, Japan, who are somehow aware of what happened in Gwangju in 1980. One of the people she meets is a woman named Hannah, whose mother is Korean and father is American. The other is a Japanese man in his 60s who runs a bar in Kyoto. 

Then What Shall We Sing? is one of the most unique literary approaches to the Gwangju Massacre to date, as well as a compelling tale of self-discovery and identity. Though she writes about her own hometown, Bak manages to explore a rather universal theme: the meaning of learning about the time before we were born–our history–however tragic and foreign it may be. 

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