Friday, November 27, 2020

"The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories"

Caroline Kim was born in South Korea. She has an MFA in Poetry from the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award and an MA in Fiction from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a James A. Michener Fellow. She was nominated by Jellyfish Review for a 2019 Best of the Net award. Kim lives in Walnut Creek, California with her husband and three children.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories, and reported the following:
Page 69 will find the reader close to the beginning of “Seoul,” the fifth story in the collection. The Korean War has just broken out, surprising a young boy and his family.

An excerpt:
Sung’s family was surprised to find that they were on the northern side of the line dividing Korea. They were happy the Japanese were gone but wary of the Communists. They just wanted to be left alone. What did it matter who controlled the government? Communism. Democracy. Really, who cared? What they wanted was so simple: to be able to eat and breathe freely, work their small li of land, have children and grandchildren, live and die facing the same sunset they had watched all their lives.

The changes came slowly over the next five years and were mostly seen in the larger town of Kumchon. Posters of Stalin and Kim Il-sung appeared pasted on municipal buildings; sometimes Russians passed through, tall and thickly bearded with eyes of startling bright colors. Sung’s family kept their heads low, gave monthly to the soldiers who came to collect their share of rice and vegetables, and hoped to escape notice. Life went on. Instead of giving to the provincial office, they now gave to the Communists.
Given that this is a collection of short stories, I was surprised at how well this test worked. The above excerpt shows how suddenly your life can change due to nothing you’ve done. It’s shocking at first, but then you get down to the business of figuring out how to survive in your new reality. This idea appears in many of my stories. Ultimately, how my characters deal with their new lives reveals who they are. I’m just fascinated by how anybody gets through life. In the story above, Sung and his family escape south, ending up in Seoul. Even though the capital is chaotic and terrifying at times, Sung still feels the excitement of a young boy discovering a big city. He suffers and experiences joy while trying to remain a decent human being. In the end, I think that’s all we can really hope for.
Visit Caroline Kim's website.

--Marshal Zeringue