Interviews Issue 3

An Interview with Kim Seong Joong

Translated by Sharon Cho and Shyun J. Ahn

1. I really like that you explored a feminist topic, i.e. the bonds among women, in the setting of Mars and with non-human protagonists. How did you come to create this novel the way you did? 

I participated in a project where seven women authors collaborated to write a novel on feminism. I was ruminating a lot on feminist thinking, and I wanted to write a story that makes the readers ask, “Was this also a feminist novel?” Also, I wanted to write a story that didn’t focus on anger. And that made me gravitate toward the otherworldly and extraterrestrial setting. As you may know, we are living in a world where even influential groups, such as the Nobel Prize Committee, have been smeared by the Me Too movement. And so, rather than focusing on the anger of the present, I wanted to paint a picture of a new, fresh, far away world.

2. A lot of the charm of this novel, to me, lies in the way it deftly crosses between the planes of the past and the future, life and death, and dreams and reality. What is the significance of shattering the conventions and conceptions we have of the boundaries between space-time and existence?

Breaking boundaries is not uncommon in the world of fiction. (And this is actually why I love fiction!) The important thing to note is why these boundaries and conventions are being broken. The three characters each have their own space-times and ways of existence. They each came to Mars by different modes of transportation, and each has a different body—though I wonder if Laika has a “body” since she is a ghostand lived experiences. I started planning for this novel by thinking about the different beings who have traveled from far away to eventually meet in Mars. The wasteland-like Martian landscape is echoed within the characters as desolation, and this is why they are able to support each other. Thus, I initially thought of writing a story about a castaway who pioneers the new land, but then I began thinking about Robinson Crusoe in comparison to my work; he was a lone wolf because he was a man, but the characters in my story are women, so they should support one another and stay in solidarity.

3. The protagonist appears somewhat humanoid, and while the canine and machine “Aunts” lack human forms, they are able to communicate just like humans. Additionally, these non-human characters miss the Soviet Union or dream of returning to Earth and human society for retirement, so they seem to have a lot of yearning for Earth. At the same time, they have been scarred by the Earth and the “ego-soaked men” who live there. As such, how should we interpret their concurrent similarities to humankind and yearning for humanity? There seems to be more to it than a simple love-hate relationship.

The novel has some extraterrestrial characters, but I still think of them as “human,” nonetheless. Whether they are animal, machine, or ghost does not matter as much. Human emotion is so complex that even some Auschwitz survivors remember a certain type of silver lining beyond the expected recollection of horrible and traumatic events. It is a human instinct to attach meaning to any and all experiences; the person you are today is the product of all the things you have been through and the choices you have made. And so, I think it is impossible for the characters to have a singular interpretation of humans and the Earth. The complexity of human emotion lends itself to the characters in the story and how they feel about the Earth.

4. In the same vein as my prior question, when the protagonist becomes pregnant as a result of a scientific experiment conducted without her consent, the fetus becomes the outcome of human violence. However, as women, the characters band together with a strong sense of camaraderie upon hearing the protagonist is pregnant, and I think this effectively reflects the feminist movements in contemporary Korean society. That being said, I would like to ask what your personal opinion and thoughts on the situation of feminism in current Korean society are, and where do you see it heading in the future?

Currently, feminism is the most radical and political movement taking place in Korea. Women in their late teen and early twenty are reinterpreting their surroundings in a completely different way from the older generations. They’re being reborn in the society. The current state of affairs does appear quite hectic at this point because there have been large-scale feminist rallies and outbursts, as well as neverending backlashes, but I see this as a transitional period. Right now outdated concepts and beliefs are coming to an end, and the new generation is creating a fresh world with boiling passion. Needless to say, this is a global phenomenon, not endemic to Korea. Nonetheless, feminist movements in Korea have been especially dynamic and energetic in recent years, and as a mother who has a five year old daughter, this delights me. The history of literature has proven that new imagination necessitates a new language. Across the world, new and extraordinary writers will pour into our world again.

5. What are your plans for the future?

I have two novels being published, and as soon as they’re finished, I will be starting another full-length novel. To be honest, I’m considering expanding this short story into its own novel as well. The setting of Mars and the three protagonists have really captivated me, and I have had a lot of ideas about a fetus, other exiles, wells discovered on Mars, and invasion by people of Earth growing in my head. I want to experiment with various techniques that I haven’t used before in my writing. Even as I write this now, I am increasingly wanting to get started on a new novel!

 

Read Kim Seong Joong’s
“Mars Child” here

 

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