Interview with Author Han Yujoo
We met novelist Han Yujoo in a café near Sangsu-dong as the sun waned in the afternoon sky. Chasing after deadlines had switched her days and nights, she said and her face seemed to bear that fact out. She started the conversation by saying, “My Korean isn’t that good, so please be patient if I talk gibberish,” but nothing she said during the interview was difficult to understand. Her answers revealed more about Han Yujoo the author and her works.
Your short stories were adapted for the theatre in April this year. Did you take part in the adaption process?
The Short Story Reading Theater* offered to adapt my short stories “Museum of Natural History” and “Lament” for theater. But I didn’t work on it. You see, I had agreed to the adaptation on the condition that I wouldn’t have to do any additional work. (Laughs) The actors read out the story without changing a word.
* The Short Story Reading Theater is a project that adapts the works of young Korean writers for the stage. They don’t dramatize the text but rather try to keep as much as of the original text intact while adding theatrical elements so that the audience can see, hear and feel the author’s lines. It is an attempt to find convergence between literature and theater. The Theater adapted the works of Kim Yeon-su, Kim Ae-ran, and Kim Miwol in 2011; the works of Cheon Myeong-kwan, Yun Seong-hee and Kim Junghyuk in 2012; and the works of Han Yujoo and Park Sol-mwe in 2014.
What was your impression after watching the show? There aren’t many plays that also include the reading of the literary
It was marvelous. In a book reading, you listen to and read out a text. However, the actors were uncomfortable with that format. Not only did it hinder their movement, they were also more accustomed to performing. They were more comfortable with understanding the situation, setting the course of the performance, memorizing the dialogues and then acting out the scene on stage. It wouldn’t have been easy for them to read or memorize a literary text when compared to the dialogues of a play, so I think the actors who memorized my lines did an amazing job.
Were the emotions that you felt or wanted the reader to feel as you wrote out the sentences of your stories transmitted
equivalently on the stage?
No. But that rupture doesn’t happen only when a work is performed on stage. The same passage might be read differently by readers, and might evoke different emotions in them. Once a text leaves my hands, I no longer think of it as mine. Of course, when I’m writing there’s something I want to convey to the reader, but it’s only natural that the original intent often gets overlooked.
Why do you dislike book readings? Is it because you dislike reading itself?
It’s because my pronunciation is poor, and reading out my writing is a little embarrassing. (Laughs)
What about the book reading session at SIWF…
… I’ll try and do my best. Actors will be performing with me for my reading so it’s a big load off my shoulders. (Laughs)
We heard you’re preparing a play for your reading session. Was it your idea?
I decided to do a play after discussing it with the director. I was told to trust the festival’s production team. (Laughs)
Stories with rhythm
Critic Kim Hyeung-jung said this about your writing: “It’s a rare instance of writing that shows how a literary novel can
become a prose for reading.” There’s a rhythm when your text is read out, which otherwise can’t be felt. Do you pay
attention to rhythm while writing?
There are times when it is on my mind but not always. I like rhythm. I don’t try to force rhythm into my writing, but it seems to seep into my writing without me realizing it. I like wordplays in normal life too. Things like “Fun Rhymes” and stuff. (Laughs)
Your literary style has an innate rhythm and yet you chose to write novels. Have you thought about writing poetry?
At first, when I published my novel people said they couldn’t understand my writing and that I should write poetry instead. (Laughs) But I feel that poetry and literature are very different genres. Writing prose that seems poetic because of rhythm or imagery and writing poetry itself are undoubtedly different. I feel writing poetry is more difficult.
So did you start writing novels because you were fascinated by the genre or was it because you wanted to breakdown the boundaries of the genre?
I didn’t start with that intention in mind. I think I started writing with a vague idea. Events and stories are important in a novel. I wanted to slightly shake up the core elements that make up the genre. Not the story but the afterimage of the story. Not the event itself but what happens just immediately before it or directly after it. I wanted to show that a novel can be written even by circling around the central elements.
You are known as an experimental writer within Korea. What are your thoughts about this?
Samuel Beckett said he never experimented but simply wrote. I share his sentiment, though it is a stretch to compare me with him. There are things I’m in pursuit of and things I want to try. If trying out those things is experimental then so be it, but I don’t write in order to write.