[SPANISH] Shining in the Darkness
by Mariana Enriquez September 15, 2022
Solo Las Mujeres Desaparecen (Only Women Disappear)
Kang Hwa Gil
This is a collection of stories written by women and about women. They are all very different but there are some tenuous lines of inquiry that repeat: confinement, unhappiness, the possibility of other lives cut short again and again, as occurs in the last story, “In the Window of the Cottage in the Forest” by Heo Hee-jeong, where women disappear in a suburban forest, a story that perhaps gives the anthology its title. Though it plays with elements of the thriller genre, it is not a detective story about missing women: it’s a subtle wave of hopelessness that leads these women to leave their lives behind because they see themselves as trapped, incapable of improving them. And yet, as the story hints, there is always a way back. An open door.
Oppressive family lives are another recurring theme, but the treatments are very distinct. In “The Same Path” by Kang Hwagil, the means is subtlety, a back-and-forth between the past and present that offers remnants of a history marked by unhappiness: it recovers, nonetheless, the friendship between two women, in the present, that doesn’t save them from the wounds but offers them company and mutual help. Kang Hwagil doesn’t overload the story: she signals, roughly, the circumstances that fill us with pity with a certain bleak resignation. It’s very different from the rebellion of the protagonist in “Pieces” by Choi Jin-young, a young woman who meets her lumpen boyfriend at a hof bar. He lives in a dismal apartment, an escape from a life of pressures and stress, marked by a sister tormented by anxiety. In “The Woman Below the Triangular Roof” by Ji Hye, the secrets of a coasta lneighborhood coexist, where a family of women live together in a very particular house; the smallest, obsessed by the legend—or the actual presence—of a woman who, by night, terrorizes the neighbors by knocking on doors, is incapable of completely leaving and abandoning the memories of the past. The three stories seem to ask something similar: Is it possible to leave behind our upbringing, the imprints of tradition and our families, the misfortune of our parents, and forge a new life? And, if it is possible, how do we do it?
Two of the stories that complete Solo las mujeres desaparecen (Only Women Disappear) take place in closed institutions where only women live and here the title reaffirms itself: the women disappear within these places and also when they decide to leave, because no one seems to worry about them after they depart. “About Danyeong” by Lim Solah is a beautiful story about a religious woman who leads a Buddhist temple, half refuge for women, half commercial undertaking for tourists. The girls come from complex situations, or are orphans, or need the solitude of the mountain. The religious woman gives them refuge but not affection and thinks constantly about who her successor could be. There is something sad and delicate in this story of women together but alone; it may be one of the best in the anthology. Also taking place in a convent is “The Legacy of the Convent of the Women of Camila” by Cheon Heerahn, which announces its setting from the title. Still, the two stories are very different. “About Danyeong” has markers of place and time—it’s a Buddhist retreat, one of the residents likes K-pop and hamburgers—while “The Legacy . . .” almost enters the fantasy genre since the names are Hispanic, the castle does not have a precise location, and nothing is known about the women who are there, neither their past nor their origin. But through the narrator, secrets keep emerging. The structure is circular, as if the relationship of mothers and daughters and confinement were an inescapable circle.
The anthology includes two extravagant and notable horror and ghost stories as well. The strangest is “The Night of Ahn and Wan” by Choi Yeonggeon, in which two friends go in search of a supposed “good” spirit in an abandoned mansion and find new meaning to their friendship. “She Who Came Before And She Who Arrived After” by Son Bo-mi is a magnificent gothic story with all the tropes of the genre: the isolated mansion, the governess, the perfect but sinister pupils, a mysterious housekeeper, a sickly proprietress of the house, the confusion between sleep and waking, the arbitrary rules of cohabitation. Like the best gothic stories with a feminine perspective, it conceptualizes the figure of the patriarch as monstrous, something to which the women must put an end. Many of the stories set out this mission and remain as open questions about how to do it, about how to stop being invisible. About how to stop disappearing.
Translated by Lucina Schell
Author, Things We Lost in the Fire (Hogarth, 2017)
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed (Granta Books, 2021)*
Our Share of Night (Granta Books, 2022)
*Shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize
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AUTHORS Kang Hwa Gil Kang Hwa Gil has authored the short story collection An Okay Person and the novel Other People. She has received the Hankyoreh Literary Award, Ku Sang Young Writers’ Award, and Munhakdongne Young Writers’ Award. Her works in translation include Demons (Strangers Press, 2019). The story excerpted here, “Room,” is her debut work for which she received the 2012 Kyunghyang Daily New Writer’s Award.