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Korean Authors


Writer Eun Hee-Kyung

A Genre Created through Continuous Innovation




People all look at the world from their own viewpoints and ways of thinking. For that matter, one’s thoughts and notions play important roles in viewing and judging others. Of course, it is not easy to change a deeply rooted mindset. Still, some continue to innovate and move along with the changes in the world. Writer Eun Hee-Kyung, who emphasizes relations and communication with others and looking beyond prejudices, debuted 27 years ago. Still, she does not hesitate to make changes. This time, we met writer Eun Hee-Kyung who delivers warm stories in a slightly cold-blooded manner and has established her works as a unique genre.



ⓒ Seoul International Book Fair (SIBF)



It’s an honor to have you on our webzine. Please say hello to our readers and introduce yourself.


Hello, everyone. I am a novelist, and I debuted in 1995. I have released six full-length novels and eight collections of short stories. Writing a novel is hard every time, and it feels like I am trying it for the first time. However, I continue to write, thinking that becoming a novelist is the luckiest thing to happen to me. For a long time, I was called ‘a writer of cynicism and sharp tongue’, but I always think I write warm novels. Some say I am ‘a self-innovating writer, a genre of its own’, and I like such comments about me.


You recently released a revision of Gift of the Bird (Munhakdongne). It must be meaningful as your first book to reach its 100th printing. After 27 years of your career, it must be impressive as you re-visit your first book, the starting point. How did it make you feel?


Many readers still say the book is my representative piece. Does it mean that I am a writer who can not overcome the first book even after writing for around 30 years? I often joke, “My representative piece is my most recent one because I am getting better and better at writing.” However, as I read through my first book to release a revision, I glimpsed the idea of why readers say the book is my best piece.
I started writing novels in my late 30s because I realized that the safe frame I tried to keep did not make me happy. I needed negative energy to escape the frame, and it seems that energy and desperation gave me a sort of vigor to the first novel I wrote. All the stories I wrote cast “uneasy questions on happiness.” It took 27 years for my books to reach the 100th printing. It feels like the question I asked a long time ago has been something necessary; I think readers encouraged me.



Gift of the Bird



You continue to reflect on the changes in the era without sticking to the old way of thinking. It is not easy to change one’s mindset. What makes you continue to ponder and think? Is there any secret of yours in following the trend?


Writers no longer play the role of an intellectual or mentors in the current era. I think novelists are the ones who write stories of people living the time – readers and contemporaries. There were principles that I kept myself committed to as I started writing novels: ‘Write it dry but not sentimental,’ ‘Do not give unfinished resolution and consolation,’ and ‘Do not try to teach readers lessons.’ Even now, I try to see and record people’s lives fairly and accurately, and one has to eliminate one’s bias and continue to renew. You always have to agree that “I could be wrong.”


You were the ambassador at the 2022 Seoul International Book Fair (SIBF). You could meet readers directly through congratulatory remarks, interviews, and lectures. It must have been refreshing, as it’s been three years since SIBF was held due to COVID-19. What was it like to participate in the SIBF as an ambassador?


The book fair was a chance to meet and enjoy the festival for writers and readers. I joined the SIBF several times since its 1st one. Being an ambassador who is a messenger of such a book festival made the experience even more special. This year’s theme was “One Small Step,” meaning that we just started to take new steps as we narrow the distance widened by COVID-19. I was able to sympathize with the fair a lot. There were so many people who participated in the book fair’s lectures and book signing events, which was surprising to me. As a writer and a reader, people “looking for books to read” are like colleagues or friends to me. Regardless, it was pretty embarrassing to see a big picture of me being hung in the event hall.




The Name of a Rose is Rose and Talking to Others



You wrote The Name of a Rose is Rose (Munhakdongne) based on your experience in New York. How are your message and the background of New York connected?


After my first short novel collection, Talking to Others (Dal Publishers), I’ve been writing about relationships and communications among people. “How should one understand others?” We assess others through diverse frames built through our experiences in the social system. Eventually, people have misunderstandings and prejudice, sometimes leading to discrimination and hatred. Literature lets people escape their frames and view others from a new perspective. In the book The Name of a Rose is Rose, I wanted to take the protagonists to an unfamiliar place. In a foreign city, we are judged by our nationality and race, and we get to face ourselves without the barrier we have in our daily lives. In other words, we can see ourselves and others differently.
Since the story is about breaking the bias, using a metropolis well-known to others and diverse aspects were necessary. I chose New York because it was the city that gave me the greatest experience. Nevertheless, the novel is not about New York.


The Name of a Rose is Rose talks about misunderstandings or prejudice that people easily have. We heard that you looked back at yourself a lot while writing. How can one deal with others without being caught by bias?


I do not think one can fully understand others as each individual is complex and unique. Solitude is a fundamental characteristic of humanity, which we can not get away from. But we can consolidate by respecting differences. The novel measures the distance between one another. We often consider ourselves as the wounded ones. But under the same situation and relation beyond the self-centered filter, you realize that you are also hurting others. I also recognized my prejudice as I made my novel’s main characters go through similar experiences. Writing and reading may all be processes of self-objectification.



Though you can not fully understand others, you can consolidate by respecting differences.



Many say that your literary style, atmosphere, or perspectives have become more well-rounded than the novels written in the early days of your career. Were there any changes in your mind or reasons?


The 1990s was when we had just gotten out of the fight against the military regime in the 1980s. It was the time voices of individuals’ cravings and rights were emerging. Female writers wrote diverse stories. The era was filled with far more prejudice and discrimination, and writers had various ways of raising issues.
I thought it was necessary to awaken people who adjusted to an unfair system without any perception of social issues while being suppressed and discriminated against. So, I chose a more pointed and ironic way to write in the past. But now, even without such bitter expressions, readers share the perception of social issues. Thus, I believe there is no need to use Kafka-styled phrases explicitly. But, of course, my basic attitude is about writing accurately, fairly, and dryly.


You have a long career as a writer. What drove you to work steadily for a long time without stopping?


Sometimes, people ask questions about a slump. I always fall into a slump when I write new pieces. It feels like I am trying it for the first time, and it is challenging. I often feel lost. But such unfamiliarity and curiosity I get as a novice writer keep me attracted to what I do – writing. The world constantly changes, and I live in that era as one of the contemporaries. As long as I feel unfairness and absurdity in the world, questions I want to throw continue to arise.


Your pieces were introduced several times in other countries. Are there any books you would like to recommend to readers overseas?


Gift of the Bird was the most-translated piece. As you can see from the declaration, “Since I knew the world was not benevolent to me, I stopped growing at the age 12,” the book is based on irony. So, it is hard to deliver my message well to readers overseas. Since the full-length novel Life Unperturbed (Changbi Publishers) has even stronger irony, I wonder how readers in other countries would feel about the piece. The collection of short novels The One and Only Snowflake that Looked Like All the Others (Munhakdongne) and The Name of a Rose is Rose are my recent novels. I would like to know whether my viewpoints are delivered well to readers living in different environments.




Life Unperturbed and The One and Only Snowflake that Looked Like All the Others



We heard that you are preparing for your next full-length novel. Please share with us stories about the new book and tell us about your future goals and commitments.


I am writing a full-length novel about our bodies. We are one with our bodies for a lifetime, which is essential in building relationships with others. It also is the starting point of the world’s assessment, distortion, and misunderstanding. I want to show those stories in a novel that reflects on the finiteness of humans from birth to death. I aim to become a “novelist who writes strange stories.” To quote Milan Kundera, life’s charm does not come from an unfamiliar woman showing up, but when a familiar woman feels unfamiliar.




#Eun Hee-Kyung#Gift of the Bird#Seoul International Book Fair#Novelist
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