Blurring the Line Between Dream and Reality: Sapporo Inn by Ha Seong-nan
by Cao Qing November 9, 2014
Recently, an increasing number of publishers in China have been translating and publishing works of Korean literature. Popular writers such as Kim Hain and Guiyeoni are widely recognized in China, and major writers of Korea, such as Choi In-ho, Eun Hee-kyung, and Pak Wansuh are gaining a wider readership as well. Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House is closely watching outstanding Korean novelists whose works possess both literary merit and a unique worldview; one such writer is Ha Seong-nan.
Ha, who stands out among the new writers of Korea, is reputed for her subtle and original style, described as “micro depiction.” With a clever imagination and a strong sense of reality, she won the spring literary award held by The Seoul Shinmun, the Dong-in Literary Award, The Hankook Ilbo Literary Award, and the Isu Literary Award, among others. Thus, the Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House has made the decision to translate and publish Sapporo Inn, Ha’s most famous work.
Yi Seon-myeong and Yi Jin-myeong, the protagonists, are twin brother and sister. Seon-myeong, the younger brother, dies from a traffic accident, and his body, with the exception of his left ear, which disappeared, is cremated. Ever since the cremation, Jin-myeong, the other twin, keeps hearing a mumbling sound in her left ear, saying in Japanese, “Watashi-no namae-wa Koske-desu (My name is Koske).” The voice seems to be calling out to her brother. When she finds out that her brother had bought four miniature bells, she sets out on a journey spanning 10 years, a journey akin to a treasure hunt.
In the novel, the four bells and Koske—a man in Sapporo—seem to be a kind of metaphor. Out of a longing for her deceased brother, Jin-myeong sets out on a persistent search, even if it will come to nothing, and ends up in smoke.
In the process of her quest, Jin-myeong gets mixed up in all kinds of mishaps, through which she comes to experience the vicissitudes of life, and meets different people. The subtle emotions she feels, both dreamlike and realistic, make up for a vital piece in the puzzle that is her growth and life. The descriptions, as natural as a flowing stream yet elaborately formed, break down the barriers between life and death, existence and nonexistence, and good and evil. The writer leads the reader not to despair, but to think for themselves. Such barriers are not immune to destruction.
Sapporo Inn is an outstanding work that joins together ideology, art, and readability. Through this work, readers will come to reflect on the meaning of life and existence.
* Cao Qing is editor of Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House.
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AUTHORS Ha Seong-nan Ha Seong-nan made her literary debut in 1996 when her short story “Grass” won the Seoul Shinmun New Writer’s Contest. Her works include the short story collections Rubin’s Vase, Flowers of Mold, Bluebeard’s First Wife, Wafers, and The Taste of Summer, the novels The Joy of Eating, A, and A Christmas Carol, and essay collections Hope, That Beautiful Strength (co-authored), and Things Still Excite Me.