"That Girl's House" (1995) by Park Wan-suh

adult division, 2017 essay competition

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"That Girl's House" will be available on our website until the end of the 2017 Writing Competition (February 28, 2017). Please note that per our agreement with the publisher, this story may not be printed from our website.

About the Author

Park Wan-suh was born in 1931 in Gaepung-gun in Hwanghaebuk-do in North Korea. Park entered Seoul National University, but dropped out almost immediately after attending classes due to the outbreak of the Korean War and the death of her brother. During the war, Park was separated from her mother and elder brother by the North Korean army, which moved them to North Korea. She lived in the village of Achui, outside Seoul until her death in 2011.

Park published her first work, The Naked Tree, in 1970, when she was 40. Her oeuvre quickly grew however and as of 2007 she had written fifteen novels and 10 short story collections. Her work is revered in Korea and she has won many Korean literary awards, including the Yi Sang Literary Prize (1981), the Korean Literature award (1990), and the Dong-in Literary Award (1994). Park’s work centers on families and biting critiques of the middle class. Perhaps the most vivid example of this is in her work The Dreaming Incubator in which a woman is forced to undergo a series of abortions until she can deliver a male child. Park’s best known works in Korea include Year of Famine in the City, Swaying Afternoons, Warm Was the Winter That Year, and Are You Still Dreaming?

In terms of general themes, Park’s fiction can be divided into three groups. The first deals with the tragic events of Korean War and its aftermath. Many of these stories reflect Park’s own experiences and the turbulence of the age she lived through. She often depicts families torn apart by the war and the heavy price the war continues to exact from its survivors. The archetypal figure in many of her works is that of the suffering mother who must make her way through life after losing both her husband and her son during the war. Park’s works also target the hypocrisy and materialism of middle-class Koreans, offering sharp denunciations of a bourgeois society. In these works, acts of individual avarice and snobbery are linked to larger social concerns such as the breakdown of age-old values and dissolution of the family. In turn, these phenomena are found to be symptomatic of the rapid industrialization of society in Korea after 1960s. In 1980s, Park turned increasingly toward problems afflicting women in patriarchal society while continuing to engage with the lives of middle-class Koreans. Park’s translated novels include Who Ate up All the Shinga, which sold some 1.5 million copies in Korean.