[42nd Translation Award] Grand Prize: ’A Way of Remembrance’
Translated by Jung Ye-won
Perhaps in the beginning I wanted to tell a story about frogs.
I think it was when I was spending a lot of time in the mosquito net, after having been harassed by mosquitoes all summer long and being more harassed by them as they became more and more vicious at the end of summer, that I came to have a desire to tell a story about frogs. The mosquito net, white, was fixed to the ceiling above the bed, enveloping the bed in a rectangular shape.
This summer seemed particularly long, but perhaps it wasn’t especially long, considering that every summer had seemed particularly long. Perhaps the same could be said about how this summer seemed particularly hot, with a particularly great number of mosquitoes. It was true, however, that I killed more mosquitoes this summer than I had any other summer.
The mosquitoes that bit me mercilessly stirred up within me a vague hostility that wasn’t especially directed towards them, but failing to find another target to which to return the hostility, I had no choice but to return it to the mosquitoes. Thus I waged a war with mosquitoes, and much blood was shed, most of it mine, in the war that went on without victors or losers. It was the mosquitoes, however, that died in countless numbers. I killed over ten mosquitoes a day, and their traces usually remained intact on the walls.
Towards evening when the mosquitoes became active, I would leap to my feet, even after lying as if dead in the mosquito net, and go out of the net and begin frantically to kill the mosquitoes, which continued to reappear as though through replication, no matter how many of them I killed. I reflected on the number of mosquitoes I caught in a day, and on the question of writing down my criminal record. “August 30, slapped to death twelve mosquitoes with bare hands,” I could say. I could add something more, such as the way I felt after killing the mosquitoes, not just list the dates and numbers―“Felt unreasonably good today, despite killing countless mosquitoes,” for instance―but didn’t.
On days I spent killing over ten mosquitoes, with nothing else to do in particular, I felt that killing mosquitoes was the most important task, virtually my only task, and consequently felt that mosquitoes were important creatures, indispensable to me. At times I would be without any motivation, then find the strength to start the day by killing mosquitoes. By evening the mosquitoes would be desperate to get a bite out of me, and I would be desperate to kill them.
At times I enjoyed lying on my bed, surrounded by the mosquito net, and watching the mosquitoes that were after me, sitting close together on the other side of the net, longing to suck my blood, nearly mad with the desire, but suffering tremendously because they could not do so. At such times, I could almost hear them screaming out of pain.
The mosquitoes were starved for blood, and I understood their starvation. Or I thought I did. I also sought to understand their predicament of being able to live only on blood. Although it wasn’t because I understood or tried to understand their starvation and predicament, I occasionally allowed the mosquitoes to suck the blood out of my body. The bodies of the mosquitoes that had stuffed themselves full of blood were red with congestion.
Perhaps in the beginning I wanted to write a story about frogs, but the reason is unclear. I heard frogs croaking in the small stream created by the scanty water that came flowing down the mountain near the house, but I have never seen the frogs.
Frogs, of course, were something I liked, and when I was little, I used to amuse myself catching frogs. And there might have been a time in my childhood when I saw a frog I’d caught and marveled at its features, and stared at it for quite a long time, and someone asked me what I was doing as I stared intently at the frog, and I said that staring at a frog for a long time made me feel quite strange. What impressed me more when I was little, however, were the toads that crossed the yard when it rained, not the frogs. Toads seemed to resemble frogs, but gave a very different impression. I want to talk about the difference between the two creatures as well, but I’m not quite sure what it is that makes the two appear essentially different.
Through the summer, I met nearly no one and did nearly nothing besides writing this, and spent a lot of time in the mosquito net listening to the sound of frogs croaking which came from a distance, which is perhaps why I’ve come to have a desire to write a story about frogs. Listening to the sound of frogs croaking, I thought it came from just the right distance, not too near and not too far. The sound was not so loud that it demanded all my attention, nor was it so quiet that it made me strain my ears. I could be oblivious to the sound, then spontaneously start listening to it, then become oblivious again.
Or perhaps in the beginning I wanted to write a story about a man who prepared a grave in the garden for the woman he loved, and about the dead woman. Or perhaps in the beginning I wanted to write a story about frogs, and at the same time, to write a story about a man who prepared a grave in the garden for the woman he loved, and about the dead woman.
The two stories must have begun separately in the beginning, but merged together somewhere and become one story as the story about frogs became a natural part of the story about the dead woman. As always, my thoughts must have slipped away into an unexpected direction in my thoughts, and I must have let them slip, to whatever extent.
I thought about the things that could possibly appear in the story, and thought that it wasn’t essential that a frog appear in the story just because I wanted to write a story about frogs. And the frog in question could be something metaphorical, not a real frog, such as a thought that plunges into a thought like a frog that plunges into a puddle, or slowly creeps in. So something like a porcupine, for instance, could take the place of a frog, by all means (I actually knew a funny story about porcupines, a story about how after a mother porcupine died after giving birth at a zoo, the cubs lived huddled together next to a broom, taking it for their mother and rubbing themselves against the rough bristles.). But I thought it would be all right to have frogs actually appear in the story, so I did.
In this story will appear, besides frogs, other animals and plants, as well as things (I thought I should make sure to say something about cucumbers while saying something about frogs, but in the end, I failed to say anything about cucumbers.).
And above all, I wanted to write something in which words and sentences were endlessly repeated, as in some boring piece of music, a piece of music that made you feel infinitely lethargic as you listened to it. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I did nearly nothing this summer besides endlessly catching mosquitoes and writing this.
The story about frogs, or about a certain dead woman, might begin in the following way.
Since she died, I’ve been living in her house instead of her. So to speak, I mean. I could say that, since nearly everything in the house in which I’m living, which belonged to her, was hers. Indeed, I view my face in the mirror in the bathroom she used, comb my hair with the comb she used, and eat my meals using the spoons and bowls she used. I also wear the pajamas she wore, sleep in the bed she used in the room she used, and live in the house she lived in.
Jung Ye-won was born in Seoul, Korea, and moved to the United States at the age of 12. She graduated from Brigham Young University majoring in Enlish and then came back to Korea to study at the Graduate School of Interpretation and Translation at Hankuk Univeristy of Foreign Studies. She can be reached at email@example.com.
By Kwon Mee-yoo
Jung Young-moon, the author of “A Way of Remembrance,” was born in Hamyang, South Gyeongsang Province, in 1965. He studied psychology at Seoul National University.
He made his debut with “A Man who Barely Exists” through literary magazine “Jakga Segye” (Writer’s World) in 1996, and later released novels and collections of short stories including “Black Chain Stories” (1998), “Pale Soliloquy” (2000), “Yawn” (2006) and, most recently, “A World of Artificiality” in September.
Jung’s prose is often likened to such 20th-century avant-garde writers as Franz Kafka and Samuel Beckett.
writer won the 1999 Dongseo Literary Award for “Black Chain Stories,” which was translated into French in 2007.
“A Way of Remembrance” was included in the short story collection “Some Afternoon of a Faun” (2008). This collection of short stories pries into universal themes such as death, salvation and corruption through characters’ monologues.
Jung however is also a translator who have introduced English novels.
The As a translator, Jung introduced more than 50 novels in Korean, such as Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love,” Germaine Greer’s “The Boy” and John Fowles’ “Ebony Tower.”
He participated in an international writing program at the University of Iowa in 2005, a program offered through the Korea Literary Translation Institute in Seoul.