Illicit and forbidden loves mark new departureGong Ji-young and Jeon Kyoung-lin. They are two of Korea’s most prolific and popular female authors. Although their literary styles are significantly different, their names are often uttered side by side as household words.
Both are 41 years old, although Ms. Gong debuted on the literary scene in 1988, eight years earlier than Ms. Jeon. While Ms. Gong’s novels are considered politically charged, Ms. Jeon reveals her views in a softer feminine way.
Perhaps the only thing they have in commen is that instant hits launched their careers, which remain firmly in orbit. Last year, Ms. Jeon’s novel “Hwangjini” sold 200,000 copies domestically, while Ms. Gong’s “Our Happy Time,” also from 2005, is still high on the bestsellers list.
The two may be destined for more comparison ― last month, both released romantic novels about the sort of forbidden love that Koreans have traditionally frowned upon. Ms. Gong recounts an international romance between a Korean woman and Japanese man, while Ms. Jeon writes about an illicit love affair between a single woman and a married man.
Their substance and style of delivery suit each author well, as readers may smile knowingly. And their latest stories are unlikely to be judged as typical romantic tales.
Ms. Jeon’s “Someday When I Return” unmistakably shows her strong points. Her fine sensibility and delicate if not fragrant choice of words permeate the novel. Consider her description of “a careful walk, like that of an old man who is scared the ground will sink” or when the protagonist feels herself falling asleep “just as grains leak from a hole in a sack.”
Ms. Jeon’s way of portraying love seems ringed with bitter irony this time around. Romance, it seems, is a dangerous thing to jump into. Like characters in Ms. Jeon’s previous five novels, Hye-gyu mumbles coldly and self-deprecatingly, burdened by a bleeding gash from her painful past. But in a change from past stories, the heroine is not emotionally blind or helplessly in love. Rather she is a more selfish and independent woman who seeks to understand herself ― even if it involves an inappropriate relationship with the married Hyeong-ju.
Ms. Gong’s new novel “Things that Come after Love” is also different from her past work. Despite Korea and Japan’s historic legacy, she does not explore the political dimensions of love.
One reason for this may be the fact that she worked on the book with Hitonari Tsuji, the Japanese writer of the romantic bestseller “Between Calm and Passion.” The new book is in fact a joint literary project between Mr. Tsuji and Ms. Gong who each wrote the same story but from a different perspective ― Ms. Gong obviously the Korean woman’s viewpoint and Mr. Tsuji, the Japanese man’s.
The two writers said they found a way to understand the characters in the novel from the way they each wrote about their feelings. At one point Mr. Tsuji writes that the female character “seems to be stubborn, yet innocent and an honest person to herself,” possibly referring to his thoughts of Ms. Gong.
For one year, Mr. Tsuji and Ms. Gong wrote over 1,000 e-mails as they worked on the story and for once Ms. Gong avoided writing about the sour relations between Korea and Japan, making her words much gentler and softer.
by Son Min-ho, Lee Min-a