By Yi Sang
(Jimoondang, 5,000 won)
Author Yi Sang (1910-1937) is regarded as one of the most innovative writers in modern Korean literature. Having trained as an architect, Yi blurred the boundaries between poetry, fiction and essay, while breaking the rules of language and its forms.
One of Yi’s short stories, “The Wings” exhibits Yi’s inventive literary techniques as well as his autobiographical accounts that delve into the themes of love, infidelity and self-deception.
Highly educated yet financially incapable, the protagonist, a 26-year-old married man, stays home while his wife makes money.
All he does in his room is eat and sleep, waiting until his wife visits him with food. He sometimes smells his wife’s cosmetic creams and burns papers using a magnifying glass and the limited sunlight.
His wife, whose occupation is unknown, makes him take unidentified pills every day, telling him they are aspirins and he needs to rest as much as possible.
After a series of unproductive, spiritless days, he accidentally finds out the pills were sleeping drugs, not aspirins.
Enraged and confused, he gets out of the house for a walk. When he returns home, he sees his naked wife with another man. It turns out she was working as a prostitute.
After witnessing the scene, he goes to the rooftop of a department store. There, he thinks he wants his “wings” again to fly off.
Yi Sang never received much recognition during his lifetime. But his writings began to be reprinted in the 1950s, and were highly received by both the public and critics by the 1970s. In 1977, the Yi Sang Literary Award was established. It has become one of the most prestigious literary awards in Korea.
While visiting Tokyo in 1936, Yi was arrested on charges of “thought crimes.” Yi, who had been suffering from tuberculosis even before his imprisonment, died in 1937, not long after his release from jail. He was 27 years old.