The Rainy Spell and Other Korean Stories
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The Rainy Spell and Other Korean Stories

Ji-moon Suh

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eBook - ePub

The Rainy Spell and Other Korean Stories

Ji-moon Suh

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This anthology of short stories reflects the writers' shared core experience of Korea's trajectory from an inward-looking feudal state, through Japanese colony and battle-ground for the Korean War, to a modernizing society. Three stories have been added to the original edition.

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Informazioni

Editore
Routledge
Anno
2015
ISBN
9781317454939
The Rainy Spell
Yoon Heung-gil
Yoon Heung-gil, born in 1942, is an author who eludes classification. It is not because he has intentionally rejected the dominant literary trends. In fact, he has treated many of the themes other contemporary authors favored—the problem of social injustice, economic inequality, abuse of human rights, and the aftermaths of national division. But there is always more to savor in his stories than in the average writer’s, even when he treats the same subject. While indignation predominates in the works of other writers, pity runs stronger in his stories. And his characters are always fuller. Having experienced excruciating emotional and psychological conflicts all through his penurious childhood and adolescence, Yoon has an acute understanding of the worms that gnaw at the root of the human psyche and man’s innumerable compensatory mechanisms. Thus, even his villains have some redeeming qualities, and his heroes, human weaknesses. This, together with his verbal wit, irony, and inimitable handling of his native Cholla-do dialect, constitute his charm. After taking us through numerous pitfalls and trials that lie in ambush for humanity, Yoon offers a possibility of meaningful survival.
“The Rainy Spell,” first published in 1978, is still rated as one of the finest short stories to deal with the Korean War experience. Because it was a war in which a homogeneous race slaughtered each other, the Korean War left a wound in the Korean psyche that is still not completely healed after half a century. The momentous encounter between the two grandmothers with sons in the opposing war camps is innocently reported by a child who gets caught up in the grown-ups’ games of hate. The final reconciliation between the women holds out a hope for healing and transcendence.
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1

The rain that had started to pour from the day after we reaped the last pea-pods showed no sign of letting up even after many days. The rain came sometimes in fine powdery drops, or in hard, fierce balls, threatening to pierce the roof. Tonight, rain enveloped the pitch darkness like a dripping-wet mop.
It must have been somewhere right outside the village. My guess is that it came from somewhere around the empty house beside the river-bank which was used for storing funeral palanquins. The house always struck me as an eerie place, and even dogs would bark in long, dismal, fox-like howls when going near it. But it might have come in reality from a place much farther than the empty house. The distant howling of dogs filled the silence following the thinning rain. As if that far-off howling had been a military signal, all the village dogs that had managed to survive the war began to bark in turn. Their barking was unusually fierce that night.
That evening we were all gathered in the guest room occupied by my maternal grandmother, because she was greatly disturbed by something and we had to comfort and reassure her. But Mother and Maternal Aunt’s efforts to say something comforting ceased after the dogs began to bark outside. Stealing glances at Grandmother, they repeatedly turned their eyes towards the darkness beyond, separated from the room only by the door panelled with gauze mosquito netting. An obscure moth with tremulous wings had been crawling up and down the doorpost for a long time now.
“Just wait and see. It won’t be long before we’ll know for sure. Just wait and see if I’m ever wrong,” Grandmother murmured in a sunken voice. She was shelling peas from the pods. The peas would be cooked with the rice for breakfast the next morning. Sitting with her lap full of damp pea-pods, she shelled the peas with sure, experienced hands—first breaking off the tip and slitting open the pod, then running her finger through it. When the bright green peas slid out to one side, Grandmother cupped them in her palm and poured them into the bamboo basket at her knee, and dropped the empty pod into her lap.
Mother and Aunt, who lost the chance to make a rejoinder, exchanged awkward glances. Outside, the rain grew noisy again, and the dogs barked more fiercely, as if in competition. The night grew still stormier, and from the direction of the storage platform came the clatter of metal hitting the cement floor. The tin pail hung on the wall must have fallen down. A sudden gust of wind and rain rushed into the room, rattling the door and blowing out the kerosene lamp that had been flickering precariously. The room sank under the sudden flood of darkness and sticky humidity. The moth’s wings also stopped quivering. A dog began to bark three or four houses beyond ours in the alley. Our dog Wŏlly, who had kept silent till then, growled. The wild commotion of the dogs, which had begun at the entrance of the village, was coming nearer and nearer our house.
“Light that lamp,” Grandmother said. “Light the lamp, I said. Didn’t you hear me?” Feeling about the room in the dark, Grandmother made a rustling noise. “What evil weather!”
I groped about the room, found a match, and lit the kerosene lamp. Mother trimmed the wick. A strip of sooty smoke curled upward and drew a round shadow on the ceiling.
“It’s always wet like this around this time of the year.” Mother spoke in an effort to lessen the uneasiness created by the weather.
“It’s all because of the weather. It’s because of this weather that you’re worrying yourself sick for no reason,” Aunt also put in. Aunt had graduated from a high school in Seoul before the war broke out, when my mother’s family lived in Seoul.
“No. It isn’t for no reason. You don’t know. When has my dream ever predicted wrong?” Grandmother shook her head left and right. But even as her head shook, her hands worked surely and steadily.
“I don’t believe in dreams. Only the day before yesterday we received Kiljun’s letter saying he’s well and strong.”
“That’s right. You read yourself where Kiljun said he’s bored these days because there aren’t any battles.”
“All that’s of no use. I knew three or four days beforehand when your father died. Only, that time, it was a thumb instead of a tooth. That time I’d dreamed my thumb just came loose and disappeared.”
Oh, the hateful account of that dream again! Doesn’t Grandmother ever get tired of talking about that dream? Ever since she woke up at dawn, Grandmother had kept murmuring about her dream, her eyes vague and clouded. Continually moving her sunken, almost toothless mouth, she kept hinting that there was an inauspicious force rushing towards her. She had only seven teeth left in all; she had dreamed that a large iron pincer from out of nowhere forced itself into her mouth, yanked the strongest of the seven, and fled. The first thing Grandmother did as soon as she woke up from her dream was to feel in her mouth and check the number of her teeth. Then she ordered Aunt to bring a mirror and checked the number again with her eyes. Still not content, she made me come right up to her face and demanded repeated assurances from me. No matter how often anybody looked in, there were seven teeth in her mouth, just as before. Moreover, the lower canine tooth that she treasured as a substitute for a grinder was as soundly in its place as ever.
But Grandmother wouldn’t give credence to anybody’s testimony. It seemed that to her it was out of the question that the canine tooth could remain there as if nothing had happened. Her thoughts strayed from reality and dwelled only in her dream. She refused to believe that her daughters and son-in-law were telling the truth, and she even doubted the eyesight of her grandson, whom she always praised highly for being good at threading needles. Not only did she distrust the mirror, but she even disbelieved her own fingers, which had made a tactile survey of the teeth inside her mouth.
Grandmother had spent the whole long summer’s day muttering about her dream. It taxed all of our nerves to distraction. The first one to break down and mention my maternal uncle’s name was my mother. When Mother incautiously mentioned the name of her brother, who was serving at the front as a major and commander of a platoon in the Republic’s army, Grandmother’s flabby cheeks convulsed in a spasm. Aunt cast a reproachful look at her older sister. Grandmother, however, ignored Mother’s words. Having judged that there was no other way of setting the old woman’s mind at ease, Aunt also began talking about Uncle before long. But Grandmother never uttered her only son’s name even once. She just kept on talking about that hateful dream.
As darkness began to set in, it became difficult to tell who was being comforted and who was giving comfort. As the night deepened, Grandmother’s words became more and more darkly suggestive, as if she were under a spell, and her face even took on an expression of triumphant self-confidence. Mother and Aunt, on the other hand, fidgeted uneasily and gazed vacantly at the pea-pods they had brought in to shell. In the end, all work was handed over to Grandmother, and Mother and Aunt could do nothing but listen to the endless incantatory muttering of the old woman.
Rain was pouring down like a wet mop over the whole surface of the village. The three or four dogs that were lucky enough to survive the war mercilessly tore the shroud of darkness, filling every space with their shrill howling. Grandmother kept on shelling with expert hands, putting the bright green peas into the bamboo basket and the empty pods back into her lap. Our dog Wŏlly, who received no kindly attention from anyone these difficult, gloomy days, began barking in surprisingly furious and ringing tones. Just then we could hear footsteps rounding the walls of the house next door. These were not the footsteps of just one person. There seemed to be three, or at least two. Someone must have stepped on a puddle; there was a splashing sound, and hard upon it came a grumbling about the terrible weather.
Who could those people be? Who would dare trudge through the village in this pouring rain in the depth of the night? Even though the war front had receded to the north, it was still a dangerous time. Communist guerrillas still occasionally invaded and set fire to the town police station. No one with any sense of propriety ever visited other people’s houses after dark, unless on some emergency. To which house, then, could those people be going at this time of the night? What mischief might they be brewing, tramping the night streets in a group?
Mother grabbed hold of Aunt’s hand. With her hand in her sister’s keeping, Aunt stared into the darkness beyond, which was visible through the gauze panels of the door. Underneath the wooden porch adjoining the inner room, Wŏlly was barking desperately. Even Grandmother, whose hearing was not very good, had already realized that the band of men had stopped in front of the twig gate of our house and was hesitating there.
“Here they are at last. Here they are,” Grandmother murmured in a parched voice.
“Sunku!” Someone called Father’s name from beyond the twig gate. “Sunku, are you in?”
In the inner room Paternal Grandmother let out short, raspy coughs. We could hear Father stirring to go out. Hearing that, Mother whispered in a frightened voice towards the inner room. “I’ll slip out and see what’s going on. You stay where you are and pretend you’re dead.”
But Father was already in the hall. Putting on his shoes, Father bade us to heed Mother’s words. Wŏlly, who had been yelping frantically, suddenly ceased barking with a sharp groan. Father must have done something to him. Crossing the yard, Father spoke cautiously, “Who is it?”
“It’s me, the village head.”
“Why, what brings you here in the middle of the night?”
The bell attached to the twig gate tinkled. We could hear the men exchanging a few words. Then there was silence again outside, and only the vigorous dripping of rain filled our ears. Mother, who had been standing irresolutely in the room, could bear it no longer and threw open the door. She rushed outside, and Aunt followed her quickly. In the inner room Paternal Grandmother emitted a few hoarse coughs. Right beside me Maternal Grandmother was shelling peas steadily, completely absorbed in the work. Running her finger through the pod, she murmured, “It won’t shake me a bit. I knew we were going to have some tidings today or tomorrow. I knew it for a long time. I’m all prepared.”
I couldn’t sit still. After some inner struggle, I left Maternal Grandmother alone and stole out of the room. Even on the dirt veranda I could hear her parched voice saying, “I’m not shaken, not I.”
It was much darker outside than I had thought. Each time I moved my legs, Wŏlly’s wet, furry, smelly body hit my inner thighs. The dog kept groaning and licking my hand. The rain was heavier than I had expected. It bathed my face and soaked my hemp shirt, and made me drenched as a rat that has fallen into a water-jar. Wŏlly gave up following me and retreated, growling fearfully. The grown-ups’ contours were visible only when I drew quite close to the twig gate. It looked as if whatever information they had brought was passed on. In spite of the pouring rain, the grown-ups just stood still. I could dimly see the heads of two men covered with military waterproof cloth and the familiar face of the village head who stood facing us. Father and Aunt were supporting Mother’s trembling, sinking body. After a long silence the village head spoke.
“Please give your mother-in-law my sincere condolences.”
Then one of the two men wrapped in waterproof cloth spoke. He hesitated a great deal, as if extremely reluctant to speak. His voice, therefore, sounded very shy.
“I really don’t know what to say. We’re just as grieved as any of his family. It was an errand we’d have been glad to be spared. Goodbye, then, sir. We have to go back now.”
“Thank you. Be careful in the dark,” Father said.
They slipped through the twig gate, picking their way with their flashlights. A sob escaped from Mother. Aunt reproached her. Then Mother began to cry a little louder. Without saying a word, Father walked ahead towards the house. Aunt followed, supporting Mother, whispering to her “Please take hold of yourself. What will Mother do if you cry like this? Try to think of Mother, Mother!”
My mother covered her mouth with her hand. In this way, she managed to control her sobs when she stepped into the room.
Father, who had reached the room before any of us, was kneeling awkwardly before Maternal Grandmother, like one guilty, and was turning something over in his hand. It was the wet piece of paper that the village head must have handed over to him. Father was dripping water like just-hung laundry. But it was not only Father. All of us who had been outside, including myself, were making puddles on the floor with water dripping from our clothes. The thin summer clothes of Mother and Aunt were clinging to their skin, and revealed their bodies inside as if they were naked.
“I told you,” Maternal Grandmother murmured again, as if to herself. “See?”
For some time now I had been watching Grandmother’s moves with great uneasiness. I was paying more attention now to her working hands than to her incessantly moving sunken mouth. I had noticed a change in the movement of her hands. It seemed that no one except me noticed the change. As before, she was working with lowered eyes, but when we returned to the room from outside, Grandmother’s two gaunt arms were trembling slightly. Moreover, she was unconsciously dropping the freshly shelled peas into her skirt that was filled with empty pods. I was afraid she would keep on making the mistake, and repeatedly looked out for a chance to give her a hint. But each time I tried, I found I could not open my mouth, so oppressive was the silence in the room. I could do nothing but watch her shaking, wrinkled fingertips even though I knew she would be dropping the empty pods, good only for fuel, into the bamboo basket that ought to hold shelled peas.
“Haven’t I been telling you all along we’d have some tidings today, for sure?” Grandmother, whose hitherto pale face was momentarily flushed and looked ten years younger, murmured again. But as she broke the tip of another pod and ran her finger through it, she instantly turned ashen pale, like a corpse, and aged ten years more in the selfsame posture. Grandmother was in a strange state of excitement. We could feel it from the way she swallowed till her entire throat trembled.
“I knew several days beforehand when your father died. I suppose you resented me, thinking this old woman mutters ill-omened words as a pastime, having nothing to do besides eating. But what do you say now? I’d like to know what you think of my premonitions. Do they still sound to you like the prattle of an old woman? You mustn’t think that of me, you mustn’t. Even thou...

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Stili delle citazioni per The Rainy Spell and Other Korean Stories

APA 6 Citation

Suh, J., & Suh, J. (2015). The Rainy Spell and Other Korean Stories (2nd ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/1561884/the-rainy-spell-and-other-korean-stories-pdf (Original work published 2015)

Chicago Citation

Suh, Ji-moon, and Ji-moon Suh. (2015) 2015. The Rainy Spell and Other Korean Stories. 2nd ed. Taylor and Francis. https://www.perlego.com/book/1561884/the-rainy-spell-and-other-korean-stories-pdf.

Harvard Citation

Suh, J. and Suh, J. (2015) The Rainy Spell and Other Korean Stories. 2nd edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/1561884/the-rainy-spell-and-other-korean-stories-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Suh, Ji-moon, and Ji-moon Suh. The Rainy Spell and Other Korean Stories. 2nd ed. Taylor and Francis, 2015. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.