The Korea Herald


Gu Byeong-mo’s ‘Book of Lorem Ipsum’ blurs boundaries of fantasy, reality

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : March 11, 2023 - 16:01

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"The Book of Lorem Ipsum" by Gu Byeong-mo (Anonbooks)

Bestselling author Gu Byeong-mo of “Wizard Bakery” and “The Old Woman with the Knife” has released a collection of 13 short stories that offers a unique glimpse into the writer’s style and imagination.

“The Book of Lorem Ipsum,” published by Anonbooks, hit bookstore shelves on Jan. 31.

The 50-page collection of short stories consists of pieces that were previously published in magazines or anthologies beginning 2017, as well as four previously unpublished new stories written in 2022.

The title comes from a Latin phrase that refers to a dummy text used to design pages or a website before the actual text is available.

Gu said that she came up with the title after writing one of the featured short stories “The Right to Have a Verb.” The essay-like story begins with a question of why the rain always has to “fall.”

“I was thinking about the title and this phrase just caught my eye,” Gu said during a book talk held last week. She wanted to write something that does not make sense, she said.

“I found myself in this flood of storytelling and content. And I believe (writers) should constantly defamiliarize themselves,” she said.

Although the title suggests a meaningless text without narratives, Gu demonstrates her remarkable talent for weaving together ideas into a powerful page-turner.

“Art is a Closed Door,” one of the stories Gu read during the event, depicts the ruthless nature of TV audition programs that have taken over the media. The auditions are portrayed as a cutthroat battlefield where an elimination leads to a literal death, as contestants who do not receive enough votes are thrown into a pit and devoured by an animal. The story highlights how, despite the barbaric practice, the audience appears to have little interest in the contestants’ genuine artistic talent.

Gu has an author’s note at the end of each story, and in the one for "Art is a Closed Door,” she reminisces about watching an audition program.

Gu Byeong-mo (Anonbooks) Gu Byeong-mo (Anonbooks)

“I thought that (the elimination system) was very cruel. … The population is declining significantly, but society and culture are going mad with survival competitions and the winner-takes-all mindset,” Gu said.

In other stories, Gu explores a wide range of themes and ideas.

In “City of Flower Funeral,” a seed is planted in a person’s body at birth, and upon their death, the seed blossoms into either a beautiful or malodorous flower, reflecting their lives. “Zero Won Dream” revolves around a narrator who sells dreams. “Fly, Odin” follows the story of a dog trainer who attempts to suppress his conscience while training dogs for war. “Long Sleeve” tells the story of two people who become friends after one defends the other against bullying.

Gu noted an increase in the number of publishers and platforms seeking short stories, with the growing popularity of genre-specific anthologies. The trend may be attributed to the growing demand for short-scrolling content on mobile phones. However, Gu said while the length of the stories may be shorter, they require no less effort to produce.

“Actually, cutting the length was painful to me. There are an infinite number of words out there, and we’ll never have the chance to use them all in our lifetime,” she said laughingly.

Gu added she is working on two novels this year.

A prolific writer who publishes almost one book a year, Gu is also eclectic in the way she moves freely between fantasy and slice-of-life genres, mixing them in a single work.

Gu's debut novel “Wizard Bakery” sold more than 400,000 copies, and has been translated into nine languages. Her major full-length novels include the tragic fairy tale “The Boy with Gills” and “The Old Woman with the Knife” featuring a 65-year-old female assassin, which is available in English.