Find out how stories about South-Korean legends and dark lore made their way to the 2022 International Booker Prize shortlist!
Join Tara and Michelle as they speak to South-Korean writer, Bora Chung, about her book “Cursed Bunny” – a collection of short stories that blends elements of magical realism, horror, and science fiction. How can speculative fiction be used to offer a critique of unequal systems like patriarchy? How does one choose between being action-oriented or emotion-oriented in a story? How can one derive inspiration from mundane life for writing horror or magical realism? What does the process of translation entail?
Tune in to find out!
Books and shows mentioned in this episode:
Produced by Aishwarya Javalgekar
Sound edit by Kshitij Jadhav
‘Books and Beyond with Bound’ is the podcast where Tara Khandelwal and Michelle D’costa uncover how their books reflect the realities of our lives and society today. Find out what drives India’s finest authors: from personal experiences to jugaad research methods, insecurities to publishing journeys. Created by Bound, a storytelling company that helps you grow through stories. Follow us @boundindia on all social media platforms.
My grandmother loved this series and she lived with us. So every single Saturday, when the show started, she would like call me before the show is starting, and we would watch the show together. So that's my fond memories from childhood, watching this, this horrible, terrible
legends, and ghosts and stuff and and all kinds of monsters with my grandmother.
Welcome to Books and Beyond with bound. I'm Tara Condell. While I'm Michelle D'costa. And in this podcast, we uncover the stories behind some of the best written books of our time, and find out how these books reflect our lives and our society today. So tune in every Wednesday to enter a whole new world with a new author, and a new idea. Yes, and after three years and 2 million lessons, we are back with our factories and five with hard hitting questions and life changing books. So let's dive in.
Hi, everyone, welcome back to Books and Beyond. This is the first time we are interviewing an author outside South Asia and she was actually shortlisted for the International Man Booker Prize in 2022. And it's super special to me because we're gonna be walking into a world where a woman is formed out of feces, and a boy is captured and kept in a dark cave, only to be visited by a strange creature every day. And a woman becomes pregnant after taking too many birth control pills. And an entire empire is actually brought down by bunnies who eat all the paper and the furniture in these factories and offices. really spooky, right? So Bora Chang has written six books in Korean and cost money is the only book to be translated into English. I'm so glad and turn her translated because it's unforgettable. Because these monsters, these creatures, they just rip out from these pages while you sleep. And they sit beside you while you dream. Or at least that's what happened to me. So we are here to find out what inspires borracho and to explore her fascination with horror and the speculative world. So here's a shout out to all her fans in India. Welcome, Bora. Hello. Hi. Thank you for having me. Yes, um, this book, which is a short story collection, like Michelle said, you know, has all of these amazing characters and we were discussing it yesterday, you know, when I read the first story, I was, I had to put the book down. And my reaction was, oh, my god, wow, what is
so really, really excited to speak to you today. Thank you. So sorry, I scared you
know, it's also I mean, I find it very thrilling, you know, actually bought on like, I'm a huge fan of South Korean horror films, you know, like, Train to Busan or euro, and even ones that had just dark like parasite, I think definitely South Korea has, you know, a knack for getting into the darkness of our minds and all of that. What actually reminded me, you know, when I was reading your book, all these superstitions and myths that we grew up with, right, like India is actually big on superstitions, you know, the, all these illogical beliefs that gets carried down through generations, like, you know, I'll just share some that, you know, my mom has shared with me or, you know, some of the elders, like, for example, don't point a scissor at somebody, you know, when you're giving it to them, or you end up fighting with that person. Or, for example, don't cut your nails at night, you know, it brings bad luck, or, you know, don't leave a slipper turned upside down, or you'll end up fighting with somebody at home. And there's another which I find very funny. Okay, it's like don't rest your hands on your head or someone will die. So, you know, I'm really curious to know, is it similar in Korea, you know, what are some of the superstitions that have been passed down? You know, for daily activities, something we might do every day? Don't cut your nails at night, we have the exact same belief because it brings bad luck. There's actually a Korean folktale about a rat, eating somebody's nail clippings because that person happened to clip their nails at night. And this rat becomes that exact same person like up somebody else who looks exactly like that person and then the rat wreaks havoc on the person's life. So that's the scary part that that Korean parents like to tell their children why exactly not to clip their nails at night because the rats gonna eat them and the rats gonna become you and steal your life from you.
Yeah. So the moral is, I guess beware of rats. Yeah. I love it. I love that there's an explanation for that. And it's so fascinating how so many of these stories, and so many superstitions could sort of be similar like I never knew that don't cut your nails at night is a Korean thing as well. So coming to the book, you know, the book has reached all over the world since it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. And since we're in India, and you have your fans over here, but for our listeners who may not know that much about South Korean literature, could you tell us a little bit about your short story collection? And I love like Michelle mentioned, I love the dark and strange themes. So how did you pick such themes? First of all, Indian culture and Indian history is much, much superior to Korean ones. So you don't really have to be interested in Korean literature. But if you are bored, and just happen to find my book, The stories were written sometime between 1998 to 2016. So in the span of almost 20 years, I wrote a lot of stories. And my editor at the time picked these 10 stories. And the topic that he wanted to present with these 10 stories was revenge. So this is a book of revenge stories. I didn't intend to be the revenge specialist, but it just happened that way. So it's a collection of 10 stories, 10 very different stories. Some of them sound like folktales. Some of them are very modern, almost science fiction, but somebody or something is wronged in the story, and they fight back. That's the commonality that all the 10 stories have. Yeah, yeah, I definitely picked up on the revenge bit. And and I think, you know, the way it comes across in the very first story, which is called the head, and we do know that you want $1,000 in college for writing it. That's so cool. You know, I mean, I think that's a very big motivator
for any writer, you know, so for our listeners, the head is literally about a head that pops up from the toilet. And what a coincidence. I know you guys won't believe me, but I was actually on the toilet.
Okay, you know, some people have this big of reading books in the toilet, and I was so freaked out, you know, because the girl story becomes constipated after some time because she keeps seeing this head pop out. Oh, shit, what is this becomes me. But, you know, I totally loved it. And no, Bora. Don't worry, I'm not constipated. It's okay. But you know, what I really loved about it is that it kind of mixes you know, horror tropes. Because he does a typical horror trope, like, for example, a pregnant woman giving birth to an evil or a strange child, or you know, even of the evil twin or the doppelganger sort of thing. So I'm really curious to know, you know, how did it come about? Did you actually have these thoughts in mind, you know, was it a very subconscious thing? Once I sorry, just to interrupt Bora. I love this story so much, it was my favorite story of the entire collection. Because it was sort of like our like theses become sentient, and then sort of becomes, you know, a woman at the end of the day, it was just so creepy.
Thank you. I never imagined this story would survive into the 21st century.
This is so very strange.
How I came about the stories. Well, as you already mentioned, Michelle, money was a big motivator. And I needed to it was a school competition. So I needed to make myself seen among all the Korean literature majors who were trained to write, whereas I was not I was not a Korean major, and I never learned how to write. So I always picked a topic that seems interesting to me that some kind of topic that would hook me because if I am bored with my own story, then my readers are not going to love it. If the story seems interesting to me, then maybe just just maybe some reader might find it interesting. But if it's boring to me, then it's a fail. So I try to be as interesting as possible and also, a lot of stories deal with the life of or just the exists
sense of woman, the female human being. And the head when I was writing it, I was actually thinking about how becoming a mother was not a happy thing in Korean society, it just hinders the woman from doing anything else. She just has to become a mother and a wife. Because all other mostly social and economical aspects of her life will be blocked from there on, if she has a child, she will have trouble finding a good job, if she has a child, she will find trouble holding on to the job because nobody else is going to take care of her baby, the government doesn't do anything, the local government doesn't do anything, she either has to rely on her family or she has to do everything herself. So and her husband doesn't help her. Usually the husband doesn't help. Because in the Korean economic system, everybody has to do their 200%. And the husband is usually already exhausted from going to work at six o'clock in the morning and coming back home after 12. So it's just impossible. And I was thinking about that when I wrote the head as a young woman. And I'm very sad to say that the reality has become worse, not better over the 20 something years. Yeah, and you know, as you earlier mentioned, Bora, it's not just the theme of revenge that holds the stories together, because as a woman, these this theme, you know, of the woman being pressured by society was so strong, you know, and that kept me going. So you know, there's like, for example, one story where a woman just takes birth control pills, and then she actually becomes pregnant, which is scary, because the nurse keeps telling her you have to find a man, you know, if you don't find a man, something is gonna happen. Yeah, so she basically becomes pregnant without ever having sex. And, and it turns out that, like, the pregnancy is actually like, the baby is like this huge blood clot. Yeah, really, really disturbing. But But what I like is, you know, you've used all these tropes, I would say, these undertones, or these underlying themes are about women, or about women's place in society. So I really found that very, very relatable as a woman. Yeah. And the other thing that I really liked, you know, like this whole like, concept of body horror,
where, you know, in one story, as we mentioned, there was sort of like a woman creating a doppelganger out of her own feces. And then in this other story, sort of, you know, this woman becoming pregnant based on sort of like a blood clot. And then I read later at that that's also based on your own experience of having cysts. But coming back to the first story, I read an interview that your sister thought the first draft was really boring. So how did the first draft of the story change?
I always wanted to write something about a bathroom. I'm still fascinated with bathrooms, and I like very clean bathrooms. So the part about something ascension, being coming out of the toilet was always going to be the beginning, that was the plan. But in my first draft, I thought I had to be realistic. So I made the protagonist scream and run out of the bathroom and you know, call for help and do all these things that a normal person would do when she saw somebody, some some being crawling out from the toilet.
And I filled an entire page of this protagonist being shocked and surprised and scared and everything. And my sister went through it and she said it was boring. So I decided to go the opposite way. And that's how I focus more on what she did rather than what she felt that was somehow scarier to the readers because I thought I had more fun writing about what she did, or decided not to do more, like action oriented plot was more exciting to write. But my friends all told me that they couldn't go to the bathroom anymore, and
they got constipated and stuff. So yeah, I'm sorry.
So the mission achieved?
Yeah, no, I really liked that. You know, like you mentioned Barassi you know, when when the horror becomes kind of normalized. I think that is What's scarier right. So I think our system was a very wise, beta reader and you know, it took
I mentioned it's not just body horror horror can be brought out through many motors, right? So it could be the body itself, it could be an object. And what I liked is, you know, you pick the bunny out of all things, right? So the cursed body is the title of the collection. And you actually use these, you know, cutesy, little bunnies to create something so scary. Right? So what happens in the story is, you know, there's this family, and they totally lose their livelihood, because of, you know, like an industrial empire that comes across and what these bunnies twist are that kind of cost bunnies. And what they do is they actually bring down this entire empire, they, you know, get placed in these offices in these factories where all these you know, records of the company exists. And slowly they nibble away at all of this, oh, my god, like, you know, I just love that imagery. But I'm curious why bunnies, you know, out of Bora, you know, why not cats, or snakes or crocodiles.
I was actually forced into choosing the bunny, I still belong to this web magazine called Mirror, the writing team was having a discussion. This was late 2015, early 2016. And we were trying to decide the topic for the new year. And somebody said, We should do the Asian zodiac, the Chinese zodiac, the 12 animals. And we were all doing this online. So we were doing this online, social distancing. And thing before it was a thing. And everybody was writing their ideas on this online board. So somebody mentioned that the Chinese zodiac, and immediately, everybody ran for the dragon, the tiger, the horse, the glamorous animals. And then came the people who took the familiar animals, the rooster, the dog, the rat,
etc. And when I came in, it was either a bunny or a sheep. And I don't know anything about sheep. So I couldn't possibly do anything worthwhile. So I had to choose the bunny. And I had this total block like, what what do you do with a bunny? The I didn't have to write anything realistic. So I decided, well, maybe I should make the bunny really scary because bunnies are not scary at all in reality, so I went the opposite way. And the bunnies eat everything. And I think that went well. I love that the origin story behind the story. Actually, I wanted to ask, you know, like, What drew you to horror in the first place? You know, like, Was it something in your childhood? What do you really love about this genre?
I grew up with this really amazing Korean horror TV show entitled, though the hometown of Legends. And it was the longest running and most beloved horror series in Korean TV history. It ran from 79 to 89, for 10 years, and during the decade, the TV station would visit like one small town at a time and introduce the legend from that particular town. That's why it was popular because the local governments and the villages wanted to be featured in the story, you know, to introduce themselves to the Korean public and maybe garner more tourists. The series was scary. Anybody can imagine and beyond it was just really scary. It was and sometimes it was just terrifying. And some of the stories were like didactic, maybe fit for children, you know, and teaching morals such as Be nice to your parents and respect your elders and don't go anywhere at night, because it's not safe, etc. But other stories were just pure horror. And my grandmother loved this series, and she lived with us. Every single Saturday, when the show started, she would like call me before the show is starting and we would watch the show together. So that's my fond memory from childhood watching this this horrible, terrible
legends and ghosts and stuff and and all kinds of monsters with my grandmother. I was just a child at the time, so I didn't know but I later found out that almost everybody from my generation watched it.
They have they've been traumatized since childhood.
There are two teams.
One team says I'm
Give me back my leg was the scariest story and I belong to that team. The other team says the the strange portrait was the scariest. I remember that episode, but in my mind, the LEC thing was scarier. So here goes. So there is a woman, a very poor woman whose husband fell ill and she deeply loves her husband. So she wants to find a cure for him. And she goes to the marketplace to the city to find a doctor or somebody who would know how to cure her husband. And this wise man tells the woman to go to the cemetery at midnight and dig a grave. Dig out a dead body and cut a leg from that dead body, come back home, boil the leg, make a soup out of a
feed the soup to her husband and her husband will be cured. So this woman goes to the cemetery at night and digs that particular grave that the wise man told her to dig and she cuts off the leg. And then she stands up with the leg carrying the leg she turns around to go back home. And this body jumps up and starts screaming Give me back my leg
was one of the most traumatizing moments of my childhood. It was just it was just just pure horror. And
this woman runs back home with the leg. And this body is like jumping after her like because the body lost one leg so the body can't run. But this dead body coming alive is jumping all the way
back to her home like chasing her. I really yelling Give me back my leg. So she runs all night. And she comes back home and she hears the rooster alarming dawn. So she comes back home and then the dead body stops when the roosters things. So she makes soup out of the the leg. And when that sun comes up, it turns out that it was not somebody's leg. It was a ginseng, you know, the root, the ginseng root that is supposedly a cure for everything. So she feeds the ginseng brew to her husband and her husband comes back to health and everybody lives happily ever after. Oh my god, I still can't believe like you watch that as a kid. That is sort of advertising. I think I think now I see the connection more. Because I've been following South Korean horror for a long time. You know, I used to wonder it from where where are these you know, inferences coming from like what you must have consumed during your childhood. And I think now I get it. You know, this reminded me of the story. Roald Dahl's very famous story lamb to the slaughter, where, you know, this woman kind of takes revenge on her husband, when she finds out he's cheating on her, he hits him with this frozen lamb, and which is actually the murder weapon. And what happens next is one of the most hilarious and dark endings I've ever seen in stories. So what happens is, you know, she calls the cops because her husband is a cop, and she says, hey, you know, my husband is dead, what do I do, and all end up sitting for dinner, and they eat the lamb. So they literally eat the murder weapon. I really liked that story I've been teaching in my classes for long.
I think you know what's so interesting what you said, Bora is that everyone in your generation grew up watching these horror
shows and all of those things. And now I think there's a lot of material that is coming out from South Korea, whether it is you know, the music, whether it's TV serials, whether it's you know, shows like squid game, whether it's, you know, books like yours, there's a lot of also like speculative and horror elements that have been showcased from South Korean culture into the mainstream. So I actually wanted to know, you know, now that we've spoken about your influences, what do you think, you know, makes, like all of these things that are getting so mainstream from Korea, interesting to people outside and actually more than that, is there anything that you think is not portrayed that you think should be portrayed, like in terms of representation, because, for us, for example, in India, you know, there's a lot of like poverty porn. A lot of times, you know, our movies that become mainstream, have a lot to do with, you know, people living in abject poverty when that's not the entire picture. Is it that you know, there is something that you know, you think is not being represented as well as it should have now that a lot of
art and culture from Korea is becoming mainstream to a western audience.
modern Korean horror and genre narratives whether it's film or drama, or, or books, or whatever, feature Korean society quite well, but sometimes I have a problem when it features the horrific or the grotesque in a way that is violent towards the minority, for example, in the movies from 2000, to three to 2000, maybe 15 and 16, like, slightly more than a decade,
violence towards women was a part of the action or part of the horror element. And it was always a woman, preferably a young woman being butchered or being beaten up or being otherwise brutalized. And that was part of the entertainment. And I have
problems with that, because brutalizing other people is not supposed to be entertainment. It's just, it's just bad. It's not moral. It's not ethical, and it's not legal. But Korean entertainment used to do that. And I think it's a little better now. But it's not entirely rectified. And in Korean media. I think what Tara just said, is featured in the opposite direction and the Korean media. Everybody's a chatbot. Everybody's rich, everybody's well manicured, everybody is so well made up. And everybody lives in this very expensive skyscraper. And you just don't see poverty, you just don't see any other societal problems. And there is just violence and some kind of conspiracy and revenge and rage towards other individuals, not towards the entire system, but other individuals in that backdrop of glamour of this rich, just everything splendid, wonderful, shiny environment. And I heard that that's what hooks the international audience to Kdrama in particular, but I don't think that that really shows Korean society because like any other country, we have, the abject poor and we do have the super rich, but, you know, compared to some other countries, the super rich and Korea are not that influential. Yeah, I think, you know, the when I saw parasite, you know, and this was way before it won the Oscars, right. So for me, the exploration of class was something I hadn't seen, you know, especially in Korean society, you know, where there's this affluent, middle rich, which, you know, you can't even imagine living that life. And then on the other end, you know, there are people so poor that, for example, when there's a huge flood in the country, it's those that get affected, right, those who are living on the street or in basements or in semi basements. So that was my reference or to it, and it's really interesting to know, you know, how these travel over time and they become mainstream like so in India, we have like a huge fan following of Kpop. You know, by recently, one of my friend also traveled all the way to South Korea, because you know, she wanted to meet this band. I think it's the BTS, big, big fans. But, you know, coming back to your influences on horror, Bora. So it's not just the South Korean culture that has influenced you, which I find very interesting because you're one of those writers who has taken influences from different cultures like Russian stories, which are very absurdist in nature, then there's Polish literature, and then there's even Japanese horror stories. So you know, I'm really interested to know what about these different cultures that really drew you into them? So maybe you could like you know, pick one of the stories like it could be from Japanese it could be from Russian but you know, one horror story that has stayed with you, and that has influenced you. Japanese, I think, the movie the ring.
I think at this point, everybody knows it, or, or
people who don't know it are either too young or too old, but I think almost everybody in their adult lives have either seen it or seen some part of it or parodies of it. So the ring I read the book, The I've seen the movie and there was a Korean remake of the movie. I've seen it all because I just loved it so much. And I love the grudge. I
I've seen the American version I've seen the Japanese original. I just love the grudge.
What fascinates me is the fact that in Japanese war stories, like in the grudge, you have the curse, but you have the wrongdoing, you have the violence, you have the past incidents, which are different, which are separate from the curse. So if you look at these Japanese war stories, in Korean horror stories, or in any other, I think generally Buddhist, Asian Confucianism, Northeast Asian horror stories, when you appease the person who was wronged, when you appease the ghost, and comfort the ghost, then the ghost goes away, and everything returns to normal. But in Japanese horror stories very often, and especially after ring, the curse remains. So even when the ghost is comforted and appeased, and the ghost does not wish to do harm anymore. The curse is like its own mechanism. And it's done by a certain process. So you have to go back to that process, find out how to stop that specific mechanism. And sometimes the protagonists win by finding out how to stop the curse, but sometimes they lose. Or sometimes they don't even realize that appeasing the ghost, and solving this mystery of the curse are two different things. And that adds to the element of mystery. First of all, you have to find out what happened. Secondly, you have to find out how do you solve this problem? Like you still have a problem when you've already comforted everybody who was involved in the incident? And that can be very fun to play with, from the viewpoint of a writer. Yeah, that is so interesting. And could you also tell us a little bit more about you know, the Russian absurdist influences that you have, I haven't read, I've always been meaning to read, check off, you know, Anton Chekhov short stories, which I haven't yet. And I think, you know, after this conversation, I may just go pick up one of those short stories, shall have specifically is not exactly up to Certus, he could be more sarcastic and critical towards his own times and his society. I specialized in the Soviet literature from 1920s 1930s. So that time was really grotesque, very horrific in a real sense, not in an enjoyable sense, because it was during the Stalinist times. So right after the Communist revolution, Russian artists had a period of freedom, when they were actually encouraged and allowed to express anything and everything that was new. And there's this explosion of freedom and, and newness and beauty, and there's hope for a better future for about 10 years, from 1918 to 1927. And then Stalin comes to power, and then he starts sending people to prison. And then in 1937, the purge begins and everybody goes to Siberia, that hope itself not just the death, well, the death of all these people and their lives being ruined, and the people being sent to Siberia for no reason that all that is were effect. But the despair itself is just heartbreaking when I look at the literature from that specific period of time. So it's a different kind of absurd, so people were supposed to do more than the government required them to do. And there was this movement in the 1930s, and in 1935, called the Sahana movement. And this guy, a miner named Sahana, was supposedly, allegedly mining tons and tons of coal during one night like 600 tons in one night or something that is just not humanly possible. But the Soviet propaganda said this one man was a Super Hero of the Soviet people, and he did everything he did. He went over and beyond the government limits to show how loyal he was. and the Soviet government actually, like very earnestly promoted him and promoted this loyalty for the government and over achieving and giving your
300 or 400% and stuff, and that probably killed a lot of people. So when I look at that from the safe distance of a century, from my 21st century Korean reality, that's another absurd and sad, historical fact. That happened at some point. Yeah, no, that's really heartbreaking to hear and, you know, the recent Ukrainian, Russian war it, it just, you know, reading the stories, you know, really shook something in me and I, you know, even I was actually writing a story, something to do with a war, which is very dark. But, you know, influences are coming across in your connection, Bora, you know, actually the last story in the collection, which is called reunion, I don't want to spoil the story for readers. But basically, there's this man who has a troubled past, and there is something you can sense that there is something in his history in his upbringing, you know, maybe a more collective guilt that he's been carrying over the years. And I feel, you know, just now, what you mentioned about this whole Russian history, you know, kind of this baggage that has influenced you, I think that does come across in your stories, you know, it seeps in, it might not be very direct, but it is a very subconscious thing.
Yeah, I just love that your childhood influences your work as a PhD student, as a PhD scholar, to Japanese influences and these amazing stories that you've given us, which made you think so much but also are truly so entertaining, as well. And you know, I'm sure that life you've been writing for quite a while. This is not your first book. And And now, you know, sort of you're on the international map, because of, you know, the booker shortlist, which is such a huge achievement. So I actually wanted to know, How has life changed for you after this, you know, like for your students, for your publishers for readers, you become a celebrity? And has it changed you in any way? Has it changed? You know, what you think about writing in any way?
Well, I guess people can imagine that I was. Last year, I was scared to write anything because I was constantly comparing whatever I was writing to curse bunny, which I wrote about six years ago or seven years ago. I had forgotten about it. Because it was not a huge hit in Korea. It didn't sell very well. And I wasn't no name out there. And I was happy with it. And suddenly, I found myself thinking all the time. Am I as good as curse bunny? Am I better than curse bunny and cause bunny just started to dominate everything I wrote. And I couldn't allow that. I still am trying really hard to write whatever I write. Also, I quit teaching at the end of 2021. This was before all the poker craziness as Highfield began, because my husband's cancer came back, and I couldn't deal with that, and teach at the same time. So I quit. And incidentally, two months after I quit, Putin invaded Ukraine. And honestly, if I were to keep teaching Russian, I wouldn't know what to say to my students, like how do I explain Russian literature and culture is respectable still worth studying when they are destroying another country. So in that respect, I don't regret quitting. But I do feel that I somehow abandoned my students, and I am very sorry about that. Otherwise, I'm still getting used to being a writer full time. When I was a teacher, I had a schedule. I had classes at certain times. Certain days of the week, I had this class certain other days of the week, I have bad class. And certain months, I had the midterm exams, final exams, submit the grades, there was this rhythm. And now that's all gone. And all I have are deadlines. And I have so many deadlines. Oh my goodness, somebody saved me. I have so many deadlines. So I'm trying to deal with the deadlines, and somehow normalize my life that has lost all rhythm. Oh, I'm really sorry to hear about your husband. What are you know, and, and yeah, you're right. I think teaching brings a sort of rhythm like any routine that we might have, right. And you know, the the problem that you mentioned or the dilemma there
But you mentioned about teaching Russian while something happens like this, I think that's, that's quite relatable because, you know, you often wonder, like the stories were teaching, are they still relevant, right? Because some of these writers are from the canon, you know, some of them are canceled, some of them are problematic in today's day. So I think that's something we have to be aware of. But, you know, I would say, the craft or the, you know, the way you've written the stories really pulled me into the collection, or the fact that, you know, short stories are really fun to write, but they are really incredible, incredibly difficult to pull off, right. And Tara, and I notice, you know, that usually, we often look forward to the way stories end, right, because, you know, it's from the title, it's the, you know, the beginning, the middle, all of that, but the way our stories and really, you know, leaves you with a certain feeling or leaves you with a certain emotion, you know, and the way you close your stories in the book is really interesting, like the one. So there's a story called scars, okay, when a boy's actually kidnapped, and he sort of sacrificed sort of, for the good fortune or for the health of the village, which sounds very disturbing and very primitive. But the last line of the story left me with some hope, you know, so the last line reads like, he began to walk towards the rising sun, in search for that place in the world, where his life was waiting for him. Wow, like I, you know, after reading of so much pain that the boy goes through through the story, I found this so hopeful, you know, so already, I would say something that kept me going here that kept me reading throughout. So how did this ending specificity come to you, and in general endings of all the short stories in the collection, I like short stories, I prefer short stories to longer forms. And when I write a short story, I actually begin at the end. So when I have an idea of a strong idea for good, and then I try to think about how the story began. And if I'm lucky, I can come up with a title. And so the order is the ending the beginning the title, and then I am pretty much ready to write the story. And sometimes, if I'm not lucky, the story doesn't go well. And the ending doesn't suit the the middle part. And then I have to do a lot of work. But if I'm lucky, then I can ask myself, like, what happened next, or what happened before and then I can construct a good plot. And that's how I do it. And incidentally, I found out much later than I started. So when I started writing my stories I didn't really know how to write so I that was just my style, the beginning the ending the title, and then the middle part. But later, when I was studying Russian and literary theory, I read from one of the formalist 1920s literary theory that a short story is like climbing up a hill. So when you climb up a hill, the scenery from the top of the hill is certainly going to be different from the scenery you see at the bottom. And short story is like that the ending should show something completely different from the beginning. And I like it.
Yeah, I Michelle is also a short story writer, and she keeps talking about, you know, the ending and sort of, I think she also is must be so much harder to write than novels. Also, in the short stories, I you know, what a comment that a lot of the stories are in third person and some are in first person. But what is so interesting is that almost everyone doesn't have a name. So, you know, the protagonist of each story is the boy or the woman. What do you think sort of like, does it make it more horrific when we sort of like don't name characters? That is just, I think my influence from the horror TV show that I talked about, and other folktale based material, because in folktales, people don't have names. They're just just the boy, the man, the fox, the cow, the horse, etc. And that kind of gives them the general character like it's not this one specific person who goes through this one specific
scene in light. This could be anybody and could be anywhere, any, any place. And I think that kind of feels more appropriate. I don't know how to say here. But
afterwards, I wrote or I try to write
Some longer stories, and when the characters that don't have appropriate names, I started to get confused myself. So now I'm trying to give people names. Yeah, that's really interesting, because, you know, I did notice that, you know, folktales, or fairy tales that we've been reading, it usually addresses them without any name, right. And when I saw I'm actually working on the specfic collection myself. And this, this was a very strong dilemma that I had, whenever I started a new collection, I'm like, okay, should they have a name? Or do not have a name? But I think for me, I, I really like when the characters have some kind of identity, like, you know, if, for example, get Indian and if you're Indian, you know, from which place or you know, what is your upbringing, like all of that. So I think I like characters with names. But then in your book, I felt the, you know, the choice of not having names really, I would say it flowed very smoothly. And what I'm really interested about is see, you know, fairytales can have multiple interpretations, right? Like, you know, I could think of it as a moral story, or Cara could look at it as something else. And, you know, it might have multiple messages. So I'm really curious to know, did you have any hidden messages in any of these stories for, you know, that you were hoping readers would take away? I get that question a lot. Sometimes, readers are confused, and asked me about the message. And no, there is no message.
I write horror stories. I'm a genre writer, who primarily focus on horror and science fiction and fantasy. And the entire genre of fiction or popular literature is based on entertainment. It's not about philosophy, or any kind of social commentary, there could be social commentary, and especially Korean literature is very strong on that respect,
throughout all the genres, but my primary purpose was fun, to enjoy the horror, enjoy the unrealistic, impossible scenes and actions and have a journey through some unrealistic world, that could never be my reality, thank goodness, but is still quite plausible that that was my goal. I don't think I'm good enough to teach anything, anybody or give any message. But readers are free and very welcome to find their own message or feel their own feelings for that matter. Actually, you know, I love that in terms of the Booker Prize, because we are interviewed the Booker Prize winner Shihan, Corona tilaka. And he's also written a speculative fiction novel. And I really like that, you know, speculative fiction is getting more say, and more visibility in these price lists, which I find very refreshing as well. And now obviously, coming to the translation part, we know that you know, your translators, Anton poor, and he shares all the good reviews with you. So, you know, what was that process of getting this book translated? Or, you know, versus, you know, he would not get it, or it would not be translated correctly, in terms of like the messaging or terms of the, you know, tone or the atmosphere or the Korean elements? Was that sort of a concern? And how did you address it? Yeah. And just to add to that, why this book, because, you know, we do know, you've written six books. So what made this more translatable than the others? Everything was pure coincidence, I was at a book fair, and I was actually at my publishers booth selling books, because it was a very small publisher, and they need our help. I was selling books, and Anton just came by he was looking for books to translate. And I was trying to sell books to him. I didn't know who he was or what he did at the time, I had no idea. So I was like, trying to talk him into buying books. And I made some sales pitches for other people's books, but then he picked up my book, curse bunny, and I didn't know what to say. So I shut up. And he was intrigued, because I suddenly shut up. So he started reading the book in front of me and he asked me if the author was there because he wanted to translate my book. I said, Okay, I am the author and I also translate because I never imagined anybody would want to translate my book into any language. So I misunderstood. He spoke in normal, perfect Korean. I am a translator I like to translate this book
I'm me, I have the permission from the author. And I just totally misunderstood his perfect Korean and said, Yeah, I'm the author. And I also translate. And we had this non conversation for a while. He was like, no, no, I want to translate this book. May I see the author? And I'm like, I'm the author, and I also translate it. Yeah.
But turns out, one of my fellow authors was there, also a science fiction writer, and they told me that Anton is really good translator and he actually wants to translate my book, not the other way around. So I said yes, because I still didn't believe anybody who was good enough would want to translate my book. And then I forgot about it. And Anton translated God,
and home grant and all these things. And he actually found a publisher. And I thought it was a scam.
Like, I thought it was a scam. My publisher thought it was a scam. But then, one day, he just sent me the book. The book was published, and they sent me the book.
So okay, it was not a scam. Good.
That's really funny. We're I'm glad that it wasn't a scam. And I actually, you know, heard of Anton herbs work through this book Love in the big city. So that was the first book, you know, translated by him that I read, and I thought, okay, I must follow this translator. And, you know, when I saw cost bunny, appearing on his list, I thought, Okay, wow, like he definitely has an eye for good books, you know, books that don't really follow the mainstream category and you know, you know, talk of all these influences today, it really reminded me of all the influences that we have in Indian mythology. So, you know, for example, we have something called the toodles, which are witches are really, you know, so they have like, feet turned the other way around, you know, not front, but mostly towards the back. Then we have noggins, you know, who are actually shapeshifting snakes, you know, they are divots of Lord Shiva. We have so many so many, you know, different kinds of mythological creatures. So I'm very curious to know what are the horror tropes are the creatures in Seoul, South Korean mythology that you're aware of that you're drawn to? You know, because in India, we have a huge horror fan base. We also interview to horror authors like Neil de Silva, Chandra Madonna's you don't they work with urban myths? I'm just like you. So I really want to ban we have, and we have our own horror podcast. Yes, yes. It's called reverse. You know, we'll share that with you. Because that actually gives an insight into all these different kinds of mythological figures. So if you could please share, like one or two strong, Korean mythological creatures or stories with us, that'd be great.
That's Remember, I said NDN. culture and history are far superior to Korean. That's what I meant. We don't have I mean, Koreans don't have a good epic, we don't have good mythology. And we have a very thin
population for good horror monsters, because all these folktale folk mythology and anything that was not confusion just were raised during the chosen era. So now all we have is the maiden ghost who died before she got married. And she turns into a ghost because she couldn't get married to a man. Like that's the representative of Korean ghost.
It's just sad. We have this one ghost. And that's about it.
Oh, that's, that's really interesting. Because as I mentioned to Dells earlier, so there's this myth that because they've had these unfulfilled desires, you know, when they were alive, probably it could be like, they haven't got the man that they desired. So they come back, you know, in search of these men. So yeah, that's, that's very similar. So I actually wanted to know, you know, because I loved all of the stories. And I do have my favorite and I think even Michelle has a favorite. So my favorite is the is the first one
where the like feces becomes like the doppelganger of this woman, and then she like takes over the woman. And Michelle, I don't know what your favorite is, but you can share that. But I want to know, Bora from you which story out of these 10 stories was your favorite and which was the hardest to write.
My favorite is Goodbye, my love the robot story.
Actually, that one is the latest of all the 10 stories here and I wrote it during
During my class, I mean, not during class time, but I used to teach science fiction. And I would tell my students, any kind of story that came to mind during class. And if the students seem interested, I would write it down. If the students started to fall asleep, I would just discard the story. That was a no go. So this one I just made up during class. And I told my students like the general plot of it, and people seemed interested. So I wrote the story. And I did this a lot. Like surreptitiously tested the stories against my students
saw their reaction. So my students didn't know at the time, but this is the story that the one Goodbye, my love was given to me by my students are my students gave me permission to go ahead with it. So I like it. So we have so many questions, and we can go on forever about horror and folklore and speculative fiction. But you know, we have to move now to our reading recommendation section. So I want to know from you, you know, three books that you read for fun to escape the reality of the world?
Well, that's a really difficult question, because I don't read things in English.
But what do I do now? I either read in Korean or these days, I read polish. Oh, wait a second, I can actually make recommendations from Polish literature. So there's this
science fiction writer named studies where phlegm and I think he is pretty much well known all over the world except in Korea. So LEM,
wrote for more than 50 years, he has a lot of works. And so you can choose anything, and would be pretty much happy. His his most well known work is so called trilogy, the invincible and Eden and Solaris. But there are just a number of other great works, and you can just choose from any of them. So LEM is my first recommendation. I really, really love to Eden and the invincible. So that's two. I recently read and very much loved a Polish novel, but it's written by this author, this first time author. So oh, wait a second, talking about first time authors. There is a Malaysian born Singapore based author named Darrell Ko, and he wrote an young adult novel entitled mist bound, and he is Malaysian from Chinese extraction. So he is Southeast Asian, and he tried to put all the East Asian and specifically Southeast Asian but not limited to monsters and mythical creatures and monsters from all of Asia into his book. And it's just fascinating. I am actually trying to get the translation rights or for Miss bound. Oh, wow, I really have to check that out. That sounds so cool. Which are the three South Korean books that you feel are really underrated. I don't read Russian literature.
All I have are science fiction mostly. But about that myth, the Korean mythology and legends. There is this author called Kim Boyang. Her last name is Kim her first name. Name is boy Young. Her book is entitled The Origin of Species and other stories. So it's a collection of short stories are all science fiction, but her science fiction is based on Korean mythology. And she combines the two myth and scientific reasoning. And it's it's just very original. It's really unique. And the book was long listed for the National Book Awards in 2021. So it's a really good book. And secondly, Mr. Pan millhone last name is Pat. First name is Myung Hoon.
His books were published by the same British publisher that first published Chris Bani Hanford star, by Mel Hahn is a political science major. So his books are mostly
Little commentary, and he's interested in how conflicts arise in society among groups and how conflicts are resolved. And he is just very intellectual and extremely funny. He's just really funny, but in a very cerebral cerebral way, so I highly recommend his power and launch something. And thirdly, we have Juna, we have the Korean author, or she they are rumored to be a group of authors, but they don't reveal their identity. So we don't know who they are. But they call themselves Juna. And their book counterweight was just recently translated by Anton, Anton her. And it's just it's a roll. That book is a roller coaster. It's it's about this space elevator that is run by this giant international conglomerate corporation that is run by evil Koreans. And there is this mind uploading and technological ghosts. And there's everything and it. It's an action thriller. So it's like a James Bond movie written into a book, which is less than 200 pages. It's really, really fast. And it was just so fun. So counterweight tower and the origin of species and other stories. Those are my recommendations.
Ooh, the mind uploading reminds me of this apple series called The severance. I don't know if either of you have seen it, too. It's about this work life balance when literally when when the person you know descends in the elevator after their workday, they forget completely about their work life. And that identity is very different from them. Looking nice.
Yeah, yeah. With that the horror, actually, that's the tweet, which, which shows this again, it's called the separates. I've seen it. It's like I was actually thinking about it yesterday. And I was like, basically, it's really good for the person who doesn't have to go to work. But you are basically like canning yourself because the person who has to go to work never leaves office. And like yeah, that's crazy. It's a crazy, it's very creepy. That's what because idea is so appealing now that we work life balance, but it does or it doesn't work. Yeah, exactly. Okay. All right. Um, three horror films that you love for the atmosphere they create. I already mentioned the ring, the garage, both the Japanese original. And I love the Thai movie, the shutter. It's my favorite of all favorites. I watch it every summer like I watch it and rewatch it. And I practically memorized all the CDs. I still love it. Oh, yeah, the shorter I think it I think I've seen the Hollywood version, you know, when I was younger, but more recently, I really love these films. So one is called hatching. So it's a Dutch horror movie. And it's very interesting. body horror, and kind of like a doppelganger thing with this girl, you know, she she finds she's, I think a ballerina and she finds her mother very controlling. And then all of a sudden, there's this, you know, a big egg that she finds in her room. And from this egg, there's this creature that comes out, which is it's very scary. That's one another one is men. It makes a very interesting commentary on men. And another one is a Frenchman called Titan, you know, so this girl is kind of like, a mix of titanium and the human. So yeah, I think there's a there's a lot of new firms out there that that I'm a really big fan of. What about you, Tara? Have you seen any horror films? I think I think you should. I think Michelle, you need to challenge me on this because you are like, Michelle was so so excited for this interview Bora because ever since I've known, she, you know, has been always like full of recommendations for you know, like speculative and like horror and stories, you know, which are very sort of resonated with your stories. So I think that I need to sort of take these recommendations first Michelle, and then go here and you know, ya know, and you know why Tara because when I grew up you know, like I noticed girls used to watch these Miss Miss America shows and all of that, and I used to watch Ripley's Believe it or not, and, and expires and all of that. So I think that's where the fascination with the strange comes from. Yeah, I think I'm slowly getting into this fascination with the strange but let's move on to
Our next round which is the quiz round. And Michelle since you are the Quizmaster Do you want to leave this down? Yes, I'm really excited for this. And yeah Tara even you can reply to them. That is so Bora. I'll be giving you some options you can pick the one that resonates the most with one horror trope that you think has been overdone in Hollywood. A the haunted house be aliens. See, demons? Demons, definitely demons. Okay, I think it's the aliens because I've seen so many Hollywood versions of aliens. And I'm like, Oh, why can't it get more interesting? You know, but But apart from I think the arrival by Ted Chang. I thought that was a very interesting take on, Tara. I think it's haunted houses. But I guess haunted houses can also never go old. Because they are such an important part of like horror, so I don't know. Yeah, true. Okay, the next one, one speculative creature, you would love to spend a day with a zombie. Be ghost. See dragon pack? And we do we do?
I think I think I would like to be challenged to spend a day with a zombie. You know, like, because the whole challenge is to escape one because once they bite you, you turn into a zombie. Oh, god.
Okay, so speaking of recommendation, zombies, I have a recommendation. And this is like my new favorite TV show. It's called The Last of Us. And it's basically about like, yeah, it's about like this, like zombies become zombies because of a pandemic where like fungus takes over their bodies. And it's crazy. I love it so much. And another another movie that is one of my favorite movies of all time is I Am Legend. Will Smith's movie where he's the last man on earth and like there will be zombies and like I think I like that combo of like, pandemic and soft peace to get. Yeah, yeah. So so if you liked that, Tara you might like Train to Busan, which is the South Korean South Korean zombie movie really good. Okay, next one story from your book that your students loved the most a the head be scars, see reunion. I hope my students didn't read my stories. That'll be too embarrassing. And at this point, I wouldn't know.
I guess the head when I wrote it when I was a student. So the readers were technically not my students, but my fellow students kinda like that. They complain a lot that they couldn't go to the bathroom but yeah, they read. Awesome. Okay, one theme park. Right. That still scares you as an adult. A the dark house or be the roller coaster?
That's really hard to answer. I am. I'm scared of the dark house. But I vomit.
I ride the roller coaster which is scary to I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be dirty.
No, no for me. You know, I've always liked amusement parks. Or I think for me, the scary part is definitely the dark house. You don't like not knowing what's gonna pop up next. Whatever the roller coaster is. Yeah, it can get a little queasy. Yeah, for me, like I can sit on any roller coaster ever without like blinking in Iran. But really, it's my special power. Oh, yeah. Awesome. Okay, the last one, one South Korean mythological creature that you're fascinated with. One is the Gumiho the nine tailed fox being the Haiti the lion creature. See the ballgame? Fire dogs. I know I'm butchering the pronunciation.
The Comey who which you pronounce very correctly, and I actually wrote a novel about a man falling in love with the Comey who most legends in Korea about Comey who are very romantic. And I wrote a love story. So I like that. If I can add, there are sculptures of Hatha in and sometimes put together around Korea, especially in front of the Buddhist temples. And they're really cute.
They look like little cats, the high tech. They're really cute. Adorable. So they don't look like mythical creatures. They look like angry cats. Oh, that's really interesting. And this book, you know, the love story that you've written or I really hope it's getting translated. I was
I was just gonna say I said that. Please get all your other books translated so we can read them or
I'll ask him. Thank you.
Yes. Okay. So now we read
Our final, you know, most interesting round, which is called the rapid fire. Okay, so you will have to answer in one word, or one line, one film that you saw in childhood that still gives you nightmares. The woman who chases after the murder butterfly, it's a Korean horror movie horror thriller movie by kinky young, a legendary film director from 1960s. Great, I love the title. Okay, so one South Korean dish that we must try.
Korean rabbit. Oh, yeah, I thought I thought Robert has become so popular, you know, nowadays. Okay. One book that's on your bedside right now, as the Polish book that I tried not to mention, it's called the Guba or destruction. And it's the first time book by an ex journalist, and it's really good. It's about three generations of women. Okay, so your favorite Western horror creature?
Vampires. Ooh. I think I think I had seen this movie. I think it's called the only only us in the world. Only lovers. left alive or only? Yes. Yes, yes.
Exactly. Yeah. What did you think of the movie? Did you like it? I didn't watch it. Because all the Tilda Swinton movies are boring. I'm sorry.
To be Yeah, that's really a lot of patience to watch the movies. Okay. One word that you use to describe k pop culture nowadays. Splendid.
Awesome. Okay. So what are you working on? Next? I am working on a cycle of science fiction stories and titled,
it doesn't have a general title. It's about sea creatures. So I wrote the octopus, the king crab, the shark. And the last one is going to be the whale. Oh, the fourth one is the ocean sunfish. And I just need a fifth title. Is that going to be translated? I don't know. I have.
Yeah, so I really hope entity listens to this podcast. And he listens to all of our plays. Because they have to be translated. Absolutely. Okay, the next one, where do you write, I write,
usually use a computer. So when I'm doing the bulk of it, I'm in front of my computer at my desk. But when I have a block, or when I'm trying to find a good beginning, I write on a piece of paper with my pen. So I could be in my bed or I could just be anywhere with my pen and my notebook. Yeah, so um, you know, what are because your book has become so international. And as we mentioned, you know, Indians are fascinated with Kpop culture and all of that. I'm really curious to understand what reactions that you've come across for the book apart from South Korea, like, for example, from India or from other places, you know, have you heard from many readers?
Ms. Gitanjali sharees translator, Miss Daisy Rockwall, love Chris bunny, before we met the booker ceremony. She told me the story at the ceremony. She was working in her room. Her daughter, who was 14 years old was reading the book in the room across the hall. And then the house was completely quiet. And then her daughter Serafina suddenly yells, Ma, do kills make you pregnant. Like do contraceptive pills make you pregnant? She was like yelling at the top of her lungs. And yeah, I was disseminating misinformation to the next generation. And I'm really sorry. Yeah.
The most shocking, shocking reaction that I got from Yeah, no, that's really funny. Yeah, I could imagine like a child. I mean, a kid. You know, I love it. Really? Yeah. But on our listeners who are actually listening to this episode, please reach out to us with what you thought of more as books. So what we'll do is we'll actually collate the reaction and share it with you. Because I'm sure there are so many out here who love your work. Absolutely. So I just you know, I really wish this interview could have been longer run because I have so many questions. You know, there are like so many horror films running in my head that I want to ask you about. Like, for example, there was this movie I thought of which is the human centipede and I said who I have to find out Evora finds it interesting or does she find it super
But basically what I mean is there's so much more to cover. But I think I've got, you know, most of my questions answered today. And it has been such a delight. Thank you so much for for, you know, writing this book, you know, for getting it translated and for speaking to us today. Thank you so much for this interview. It was so special and thank you for being our first non South Asian writer guest on the show. Well, that's a great honor
for having me and thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
So here we are, were the end of yet another journey into the many worlds of Books and Beyond with bound. I'm Tara Knievel. I'm Michelle D'costa. And this podcast is created by bound a company that helps you grow through stories Find us at bound India or all social media platforms. So tune in every Wednesday if you live, eat and breathe books, and join us as we discover more revolutionary books and peek into the lives and minds of some truly brilliant authors from India and South Asia. And don't forget to keep your love for stories alive for books and beyond.