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    Republic of Korea
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  • Genre
    Literature - Korean literature - Contemporary fiction



    Title: The Reverse Side of Life

    Author: Lee Seung-U

    Genre: Contemporary fiction


    LTI Korea staff: Alex Baek ( / +82-2-6919-7733)


  • About the book

    The Reverse Side of Life, unusually, takes the form of a critical biography. It is a biographical novel where the narrator traces and reconstructs the life of a writer. The narrator is also a novelist who writes for the Exploring Writers series of H publishing company. Based on several interviews with novelist Bak Bugil, the narrator meticulously tracks down Bak’s life and view of literature, something that has dominated and influenced his consciousness as well as his own works.


    The Reverse Side of Life is a series of five stories. In “To Understand Him,” Bak’s unhappy childhood is described objectively: His father suffered from schizophrenia and committed suicide; his mother remarried. The narrator becomes the main character in the second chapter of the novel titled “Earthly Nourishment,” where Bak burns his father’s grave to sever his ties with his hometown. The story vividly depicts how Bak leads a solitary life away from his hometown and how he escapes from his world that bogged him down after his fateful encounter with a woman older than him, the woman who symbolizes for him motherhood. In “A Familiar Ending,” the narrator calmly talks about Bak, who has to part with the woman he loves, cannot adapt to life at a college, and finds himself isolated from the world only to sink into the pit of despair. In “For Completion of Chronology 1.2,” Bak comes back after finishing his military service to hear about the marriage and pregnancy of the woman he loved. And he tries to reconcile with the world by rejoining his old mother and accepting his father. Furthermore, the consciousness of Bak Bugil, who finally becomes a writer with deep scars and concealed desire, is minutely investigated and recorded.

    About the author

    Born in 1959 in Jangheung, Jeollanam-do Province, Lee Seung-U studied in the United Graduate School of Theology at Yonsei University after graduating from Seoul Theological University. Lee made his literary debut with A Portrait of Erysichton for which he won the New Writer of the Year Award from Hanguk Munhak in 1981. Lee has published collections of short stories including Gu Pyeong-mok’s Cockroaches, Regarding a Solar Eclipse, Conjecture Regarding the Labyrinth, The Magnolia Park, People Do Not Even Know What’s in Their House, I Will Live Very Long and Ad for a Missing Person as well as full-length novels including A Portrait of Erysichton, The Shade of a Bramble, The Reverse Side of Life, Who Else Is in Me, Legends of the Love, In the Beginning, There Was the Temptation, The Private Lives of Plants, Wherever You Go, The Gaze of Meridian, The Song of the Ground.

    Lee's novels are said to continue the literary tradition of Yi Chong Jun, a doyen writer from the same hometown (Jangheung, Jeollanam-do Province). Many of their novels are frame novels which have a story within a story. Another commonality the two novelists share is that in their novels, the violence committed by the state or a group is approached from a philosophical viewpoint in a writing style that can be described as detached and clinical rather than emotional. In response to a classic question of why he writes a novel, Lee said: “I do not feel alive unless I write a novel. In other words, writing a novel is an act to confirm my existence;” “I once told you that I serve my life with my novels. Let’s say, in a lighter tone, that I write a novel because there is nothing I can do but to write a novel.”

    Media Response/Awards Received

    Lee Seung-U, a recipient of many literary awards from the Daesan Foundation, Dongsuh Munhak, Hyundae Munhak, etc., was nominated for a finalist of the Prix Femina for translated fiction in 2000 for his The Reverse Side of Life. And his work received high praises from the press: “A moving, weighty novel that has emerged from a quiet, serious soul” (Le Monde); “A great novel where the author shows well the mythical aspects of love with the luxuriant and powerful images”

    -Le Figaro.


    Received the 1st Daesan Literary Award for The Reverse Side of Life in 1993

    Received the 15th Dongsuh Literary Award for I Will Live Very Long in 2002

    Received the 52nd Hyundae Literary Award for “The Reader” in 2007

    Received the 10th Hwang Sun-won Literary Award for “A Knife” in 2010

    Received the 44th Dong-in Literary Award for The Song of the Ground in 2013

Translated Books (28)

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