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Korean Authors


Writer Chang Kang-myoung

Literature is the fine art of addressing human suffering




There is a novelist who persistently delves into the issues of contemporary Korean society - writer Chang Kang-myoung. As he says that literature is the fine art of addressing human suffering, Chang Kang-myoung deems it his responsibility as a novelist to talk about that suffering. Following is an interview with writer Chang, who focuses on telling the stories of the pain of himself and those around him, which he knows best, as we, the modern people, cannot understand the suffering of people who lived 50 or 100 years ago.


장강명 작가



It’s an honor to have you with us on K-Book Trends. Please briefly introduce yourself to our readers.


Hello, everyone. I’m novelist Chang Kang-myoung. I made my debut as a novelist after working as a newspaper journalist for 11 years. As a journalist, I trained myself to write assiduously based on interviews with a clear sense of issues, and that is how I also write my novels. I have written many realistic novels featuring contemporary Korean society, but I don’t necessarily stick to realism - I often write science fiction and fantasy as well.


You have recently released the short-story collection The World You Want to See (Munhakdongne). Could you give us a brief introduction to the book and your feelings about it?


It is a collection of seven of my most recent science fiction short stories. They describe how technologies that might actually be developed in the near future affect our lives, social institutions, and cultures in ways that their developers never intended. So, there is no interstellar travel, time travel, aliens, or hyperspace.
I have been thinking about the existential threat of technology in our time, beyond just an idea, and I tried to capture that. I referenced Science and Technology Studies as well as science, technology, and society books while preparing the stories, and I dubbed it “STS SF” because it is SF written from that perspective. I plan to write a few more stories from that angle in the future.


The latest book by Chang Kang-myoung – The World You Want to See

The latest book by Chang Kang-myoung –
The World You Want to See



Among the stories in the collection, The World You Want to See won the Top Prize of the Sim Hun Literary Award, and Eichmann in Alaska was shortlisted for the Nebula Awards, a Japanese literary award, in the foreign short story category. What do you think it was about each of your stories that won them awards and nominations?


I was quite surprised by both, as I didn’t have any expectations at all. And I think the works were well received because they directly targeted real-life issues that readers in Korea and Japan are living with right now.
The book The World You Want to See depicts how augmented reality technology allows people to see the outside world as they want to see it, and how objective reality is increasingly lost in the process. In the story, the world is extremely fragmented, and people are almost unable to communicate due to confirmation bias. I think this is something that is already happening with the internet and Social Media and will only get worse in the future.
Meanwhile, Eichmann in Alaska explores the issue of empathy. It asks uncomfortable questions about whether empathy can be the basis of a new ethic, and talks about the limits of empathy and, by extension, its dangers.


You have a keen interest in how technology is changing society. In your fiction, your views often seem to be negative or with reserved judgment. Are there any areas you see as optimistic, and if so, what are they?


As I wrote in the Author’s Note for The World You Want to See, some technologies become part of the social system by being tightly coupled with social institutions and customs. New technologies can shake up the underpinnings of those systems and reshape existing power relations, making them a weapon for marginalized groups and a setback for vested interests. Social Media is an example of this. While I’m a huge critic of it, it’s undeniable that Social Media has given a voice to the marginalized and publicized issues that traditional mass media hasn’t paid attention to.
I’m not saying that new technologies are necessarily good or necessarily bad. All I’m saying is that when they impact our lives and society, we need to be aware and take control of their direction and power.



I mainly write realistic novels that address contemporary Korean society.



Writing about contemporary Korean issues seems to be part of your mission as a novelist. Why do you continue to write about contemporary Korean issues?


Literature seems to be a different genre than math or music, fields where young geniuses with no experience in life can achieve great things. Math and music seem to have more to do with some pure pattern than with human experience or suffering. But literature doesn’t, and there are no “child novel geniuses” to prove it.
Literature is the fine art of addressing human suffering, and the suffering I know best is the suffering of myself and those around me. And I feel a sense of responsibility to talk about it. The next generation of writers won’t know the pain of people who lived in the 2020s as well as I do, and likewise, I will never know the true pain of people who lived 50 years ago, or 100 years ago.


We once heard you say, “We are what we see, we are what we read.” What are you seeing and reading these days?


I have been staying in Gapado, Jeju Island, for a while now. Here, I have been looking at the flat land, sea, sky, and the clouds. There are no tall buildings or terrain nearby, so I feel like it clears my mind because I can see everything in front of me no matter where I look.
I’m reading several books at the same time as usual. At the moment, I have been reading a lot of books on artificial intelligence. The book I’m currently on is Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford.


장강명 작가



So, it has been about 10 years since you became a full-time novelist, which is about the same as your 11 years as a journalist. How are the life, eyes, and writing muscles of a novelist different from those of a journalist?


There are a lot of different things. And I would like to talk about time, as I came to realize that I have been a full-time novelist for about as long as I have been a journalist.
When you work as a journalist for a daily newspaper, you are bound by time. You basically have to live by deadlines, and your schedule is forcibly adjusted based on the events that happen that day. You don’t get the chance to write ambitiously and with long breaths, and there’s no such thing as a project that takes years to complete. The lifespan of most of what a journalist writes is also very short. But now that I’m a full-time novelist, I can conceive of a project years in the future, even a decade away. My life, my eyes, and my muscles are all attuned to it, and I’m both afraid and grateful for that fact.


Who are the writers that you love?


It’s kind of odd that I give the same answer every time I’m asked this question. So, this time, I’m going to tell you about the authors I recently discovered and fell in love with. For a Korean novelist, I would say Lee Seo-su, a fellow member of the literary circle “Monthly Pay Realism.” She is so good at writing novels that I envy her. For an international author, I would choose Turkish novelist Ömer Zülfü Livaneli. I recently read Balıkçı ve Oğlu (The Fisherman and His Son) and was deeply moved by it. It is an obvious story in some ways, but it kept me occupied throughout the book.



Because literature is the fine art of addressing human suffering,
I feel it is my responsibility to talk about the suffering I know best.



Tell us about another work of yours that you feel is most Korean, but also relatable to international readers.


Since I mentioned The World You Want to See above, I would like to introduce Reinvestigation by EunHaeng NaMu, published last year, which is very Korean in two ways. The key elements of the novel are its realistic portrayal of the lingering effects of the Asian Financial Crisis in the 1990s on Korean society, and how investigations are conducted in Korea, a country with one of the highest levels of public safety and murder arrest rates in the world.
On the other hand, the big idea behind the novel is a sense of skepticism about the old order and a thirst for a new ethic, which I think are things that people in other countries feel as well.



The Living

Reinvestigation and The Living



We heard that you are planning to write stories about pilots and people working in travel agencies facing COVID-19. How are things coming along? Can you tell us about any other stories you are also plotting, as well as your plans and goals for the future?


I have already written two short stories, one about the things a pilot experienced and another about a travel agent’s struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2019, I published a serialized collection of novels titled The Living (Minumsa), which contains 10 short stories about the troubling issues of livelihood in Korean society in the late 2010s. Now, I am preparing The Living 2, a collection of 10 short stories about the challenges of people’s livelihood in Korean society in the early 2020s. The two short stories mentioned above will be included in The Living 2. In The Living 2, I’m trying to include short stories that address real estate issues and the back story of the IT boom symbolized by Pangyo, apart from the pandemic. I don’t know if it will work out well, but I’m actively doing interviews for it.
Besides that, I have a couple of full-length novels and a couple of nonfiction books in mind, but I’m not getting anywhere fast enough, and it’s burning me up inside. But I will still keep on writing.




#Chang Kang-myoung#Novelist#Realism#SF
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