M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Drifting House" by Krys Lee Project 196 Korea

"Drifting House" by Krys Lee   (2012, 21 pages)


Project 196







The Republic of Korea

4 of 196 Countries


My Introductory Post on Project 196



  1. Georgia 
  2. Canada
  3. U. S. A.
  4. The Republic of Korea

 "The younger brother Choecheol ran ahead. Like a child, Woncheol thought, frowning, though he too was still a child, an eleven-year-old with a body withering on two years of boiled tree bark, mashed roots, the occasional grilled rat and fried crickets on a stick. He picked across the public square, afraid to step where last month, the town had watched two men dragged in necklaces of bones and then hung for cannibalizing their parents. They passed a vendor and woman haggling as if on the frontier of madness. On the straw mat between them one frozen flank of beef? Pork? Or human? No one knew any more, though they pretended to."

If you are an author and want to represent your country, please contact me.  If you want to do a guest post on your favorite story for the feature please contact me also.

If you are a publisher that has an anthology that is done in the 196 spirit, please contact me as I will be spotlighting appropriate collections.  

At first I thought I was setting myself an impossible task but a bit of research has made me optimistic  that I can find a short story from all 196 countries in the world.   I feel this part of the project will be completed.

I also want, and maybe this is crazy, to publish a short story, over the next 196 weeks from a writer in each 196 countries.  

As I reflected on my project and all the hate and conflicts among the countries of the world I wondered who were the haters.   Somehow I do not imagine Russian readers of Ernest Hemingway or American lovers of Chekhov among those who hate people just because they seem a bit different.

Krys Lee was born in Seoul in The Republic of Korea and raised in England and the United States.  Her debut collection of short stories Drifting House (2012) is drawing great praise from all over the world, with the exception of North Korea where I suspect being caught with a copy would get you in very serious trouble..  Today I will post on the title story in the collection.  I choose this story as it brings to life the horror of life in contemporary North Korea as seen through the eyes of children who see no fault in how their society is run.

Life is so bad in North Korea that people dream of escaping into China and see it as a paradise.  This  alone is shocking to older people from Europe or the USA as they imagine China a place one escapes from, not to.  

The plot action is about a family of siblings leaving their home to find their mother, who they think may  have left for China.   As the children go through the countryside things comfortable people would think are horrible seem wonderful and beautiful to them.   There is so much pain compressed in some of the lines in this amazing story that it was almost hard to read.   It takes a great writer to writer so beautifully about something so ugly.

"The acorn’s meat, wrinkled and gray. The size of a rat’s brain. He broke it into nearly perfect thirds, and into her waiting, open mouth fed Gukhwa the largest chunk. His hands were shaking. It was good, without insects."

The government had completely stopped food rations in their village, as a lesson of some kind.  The children deeply revere the countries leader, they have never heard anything but worship of his greatness.  All of the troubles of the country are blamed on America.  


" But Woncheol believed they would find her, the way he believed in the sky and the snow, the American imperialists that the Dear Leader said were starving the country out of existence."


Here is a song they learned while being taught the basics of math


"He sang, ‘One dead American plus one dead American equals two dead Americans"

The North Korea countryside is full of very young soldiers who will shoot any citizen traveling without pass or one who attempts to steal food. 

"Drifting House" is an amazing very disturbing story.  I know this is the cliche of all times, but it made me be very happy for what I have and feel ashamed of myself for being annoyed because there was not enough dressing on my salad yesterday.  

You can read the story here and I strongly urge all lovers of the short story to do so.  I think Krys Lee might one day be one of the great short story writers of all time.  

You can learn more about her and her work on her webpage.

I hope to read her entire collection in 2013.

Author Bio

Krys Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea, raised in California and Washington, and studied in the United States and England. She was a finalist for Best New American Voices, received a special mention in the 2012 Pushcart Prize XXXVI, and her work has appeared in the Kenyon Review, Narrative magazine, Granta (New Voices), California Quarterly, Asia Weekly, the Guardian, the New Statesman, and Conde Nast Traveller, UK (forthcoming). She lives in Seoul with intervals in San Francisco.


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