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Korean Novelist’s Pick

 

2021.12.06

 

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The Korean History on the Table (Humanist), written by Joo Young-Ha with a sub-title "The 20th Century Cultural History of Korean Food," is an encyclopedia of various menus that represent Korean food, from food for common people such as “Seolleongtang (ox bone soup)”, “Yukgaejang (spicy beef soup)”, and “Chueotang (loach soup)”, to traditional court foods such as “Sinseollo (royal hot pot)”, “Gujeolpan (nine different ingredients assorted on a wooden plate in an octagon shape)”, and “Tangpyeongchae (mung bean jelly salad).” It also talks about stories about bars downtown where people used to enjoy food and high-grade Korean restaurants where people of high social status went. However, this is not the main topic of the book. The book helps readers understand the turbulent modern history of Korea. Symbolic foods have appeared in all moments of Korean history, from the port-opening period when stopped being a closed kingdom and opened its gates to bring in various advanced products; to the Japanese occupation period when people lost their country under the ruling of the Japanese; becoming a divided nation due to foreign powers such as the Soviet Union and the US at the end of World War II; followed by lives of devastation after three years of Korean War, and then the redevelopment miracle on the Han River. Inside the macroscopic discourse of the astonishing and dynamic modern Korean history described in the book, we can witness the challenging lives of the general public living through those periods and how they are delicately interwoven with foods and restaurants. This book consists of 5 parts. The first part talks about various foreign foods imported as the country opened its gates, and the second part focuses on "Gukbab (rice soup)" places. Part three talks about "Joseon Yori-ok", a premium restaurant during the Joseon Dynasty. Part four features bars, and part five touches upon the different mixtures of cuisines and globalization of restaurants. This table of contents shows that the spatial composition is juxtaposed under the temporal composition of Korea's last dynasty, from the end of the 19th century to the mid/late 20th century. As such, in the book, writer Joo Young-Ha talks about the culture and tradition that are at the center of ethnicity through discourses on cuisine.

 

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The name "Gi Hyung-Do" is an iconic symbol for the Korean youth living in the 2000s. He passed away at the young age of 28 at a night theater. His death became a legend not because it came so early and suddenly. It's because his death came when his poems had just begun to open a new path for Korean contemporary poetry with a unique sensibility and perspective. He lost his life after sending this book's manuscript to the publisher, and it was published as Black Leaf in My Mouth (Moonji publishing) three months after. His poems, express the "psychological structure of oppression and horror embedded in daily life by taking a reminiscent method," and are universal and relatable to the general public regardless of the high literary stylings. His warm and soft viewpoint towards the world and human beings creates beautiful poems transcending desperate lives through a strict attitude towards language and delicate senses. The poems of Gi Hyung-Do seem as if they are expressing the poor days during his childhood, loss of love, unreasonable reality, and the lives of urban people, but they are just the appearance. Literary critic Kim Hyeon said, "His poems do not aim for the beauty of changing realistic things or transcending them, nor the beauty in the contrast of ugliness. They aim for the beauty of knowing yourself." As such, Gi Hyung-Do's poems focus on intrinsic things rather than those phenomenal. This helps people assume that his poems are not only valid for the youth living in the Korean society in the 2000s, but can rather have a longer influence. He is gone, and his death has put a period to his poetry world, but his poems transcend finite life and challenge eternity. New generations can still find the possibility of on-going life from his poems.

 

 


Written by Odysseus Dada (Poet, Novelist)

 

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Odysseus Dada (Poet, Novelist)

#The Korean History on the Table#Joo Young-Ha#Black Leaf in My Mouth#Gi Hyung-Do
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