Fall 2017 Interviews

An Interview with Kim Um Ji

1. Having been born in the year of the 1988 Olympics and now having turned 30 years old, it seems like you’re at a really uncertain age. Though, of course, things aren’t perfect now, we think of the ‘88 Olympics as the symbolic time when the democracy in South Korea got started. It’s also the time that Korea started to get more international recognition. In that respect, there would be many common denominators with the generation born after the ‘88 Olympics. But at the same time, it is also the last generation to attend elementary school as “gukchoding” and pay tuition for middle school. In conclusion, I would say it feels like your generation ambiguously spans between the current and the older generations. So I’m curious how you, as someone born in 1988, perceive the lives of young people and the current times in which we live.  Also, if these phases of the times are reflected in your works, how so?

Kim Um Ji: This era tosses me the question of how to express anger. It is hard to find a balance and the core of ourselves these days. At the same time, my role and people’s roles in my era are important now. I think people in my age should express their voices, specifically and directly. The question here is what would be “the right expression” to make. There are so many expressions flying around in our era.

2. Your friends who don’t write literature are managing ordinary life as thirty-year-olds. I’m curious as to what kind of differences you feel between yourself, managing life as a thirty-year-old novelist, and your friends.

I don’t think my friends’ lives are that different. I think my friends from middle school, high school, and college all share similar concerns and interests. When I meet them and talk to them, I can empathize with the stress they get from their daily lives. My friends also understand the stress I get from writing. I think this is possible because I met them before I started my profession.

3. I think it is interesting that the man and the dog are both named “Yeong-cheol.” A dog hardly deserves a man’s name, but since the husband is less significant to his wife than the dog, the man might hardly deserve the dog’s name. Is there any reason why you gave the man and the dog the identical name?

The story of “The Radish” evolved from two characters sharing an identical name. The plot of the story was originally about Yeong-cheol visiting a funeral of another Yeong-cheol.” But as soon as I started to write the story, I thought what I was trying to write was artificial, and I didn’t like the setting of the funeral home and death, either. So I replaced them with a “dog” and “going missing.”

4. There are things that are too ordinary, so that they no longer feel like they’re ordinary. Yeong-cheol’s playing baduk, the answer the wife makes at the end of the story, and them looking for the missing dog would be the examples. Moreover, because the name “Yeong-cheol” is such an ordinary name for a person, it doesn’t feel ordinary as a dog’s name. I wonder if you deliberately applied this dynamic when you were writing the story. Also, is this related to how you see the current society?

I think my story was written that way because I wanted to become absentminded. So I tried to look at the world that way. And this is not because of the contemporary society but my personal struggles and troubles. I don’t think there is true “ordinary” in everyday life. When I provide a language to the conversations or situations I had while walking down the street, I strongly feel that everyday life is not at all ordinary. 

5. What will your next novel’s venture be like?

I want to write a full-length novel that has more “depth.” So recently, I’ve been contemplating over what “depth” really means.   

Read Kim Um Ji’s “The Radish” here

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