Last Thursday I opened up my Kindle device (it still feels weird not to say book) and “opened” one of the many unread books. I flicked through and landed on Krys Lee’s, The Goose Father. A short story published in the collection, The BBC International Short Story Award 2012. Her name rang bells as I recently became aware of her work through the informative site, London Korean Links. I didn’t seek this story out, it found me just at the point when I decided to deeper explore Korean arts and literature in my attempt to face my Korean wall. Synchronicity at its best telling me I’m onto a good thing.
This morning I’ve re-read The Goose Father. The tale of Gillho, Wusoeng and the goose is an exploration of the loneliness that lives in South Korea and a man’s growing desire for something that is the opposite of all the things he is supposed to know. The story does what a short story does best, take you somewhere unexpected and Krys Lee does it in such a beautiful way. For someone who is unaware of Korean culture, The Goose Father gives a flavour, the good and the bad.
The story is full of smatterings of South Korean culture. Descriptions of the food that is eaten, dried shrimp, kimbap, a visit to a BBQ restaurant where the men eat their pork wrapped in leaves. There is the unlikely twosome’s trip to the Norebaang where they score the illusive 100 points and Lee describes a typical men’s drinking night where, Tuyeong, Gilho’s friend, is Hugo Boss clad. Using the little details including visual, the reader can take a trip to South Korea. As I’m currently living in this country, there are details in the story that particularly make me smile. In the mornings Gilho tends to his cacti, the plants form a morning sanctuary before the regime of the day starts. When I peek out my bathroom window onto the garden rooftop of the building across the narrow road, I see this morning ritual being carried out by my neighbour.
References to Korean language is used to connect culture with societal etiquette. Both are tightly interwoven. Wusoong calls his elder, ajeoshi, the correct term for Wuseong to address his elder although he later distorts this by calling Gilho, my ajeoshi. The Korean language is ruled by what is acceptable to say to whom.
An integral part of the story is based on the individual and self definition but in South Korea it is the “our” , the uri that defines society, “the uri, the we in which everything dissolved”. Nonetheless in this collective society, a particular loneliness breeds, one which is depicted in The Goose Father as we see Gilho struggle with the man he is, a good societal man and the man his younger self wanted to be. Also, the the irreversible isolation of split families. The general reader however can relate to the loneliness that is the plague of modern society, “loneliness made him feel like a house teetering on an eroding cliff”.
Is loneliness the cause of Gilho’s desire, or was it always there resting inside of him? A disinterest in sex is noted at the beginning of the story but hints quickly enter on meeting Wuseong, and his anxious rosebud lips. Or does the desire come from a sadness because Gilho, “lacked the courage to trust the person he wanted to be”. He is drawn to Wuseong as he is everything that Gilho is now not?
I’m not yet exactly sure of the meaning of the end of this story just as I am unsure of Korean culture. To the foreigner Korean culture is complicated but art and literature can help give insight. I have not yet read The Drifting House, the collection from which this story is taken but it is next on my reading list as I begin my foray into Korean literature.