Checkered Korea

Carl Mydans / TIME Life Pictures / Getty Images

Run aground
In Hwang's stories, life for ordinary Koreans is often bleak

Taesop, the backwater math tutor at the center of Hwang Sun Won's Lolita-like tale "The Pond," heaves a deep shudder upon realizing that an ample-bosomed pupil has played him for a fool, using her coquetry to make him unwittingly party to her elopement with a much hipper philosophy student in Seoul. It's a pathetic moment, both embarrassing and revolting to witness, but not hard to imagine. It's also just the first of many convulsions that course through Lost Souls, a compilation of three early collections of stories Hwang — a highly influential Korean writer, who died in 2000 —...

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