The Age of Doubt by Pak Kyongni
Reading Recommendations

The Age of Doubt

Book review of The Age of Doubt by Pak Kyongni

I hadn’t read anything by Pak Kyongni when I arrived at the Toji Cultural Centre in Wonju (Korea) for an artist residency in August 2023. She was the center’s founder, had named it after her twenty-one-volume epic novel, and I was keen to discover her work.

But I was in Vietnam when I received the invitation to attend the residency, a place where print books cannot easily be obtained, and most of her writing wasn’t available in digital format. I had hoped to find a translation of Toji (The Land) in the center’s library in Wonju.

Pak Kyongni (1926-2008) is one of Korea’s most known and respected authors. Her work appears in numerous anthologies and textbooks and is still being adapted for the screen. When I expressed my desire to read Pak’s fiction, the center’s director (her grandson) handed me a paperback of a recently published collection of short stories, The Age of Doubt.

Pak wrote these stories before her epic novel, in the years directly following the Korean War and into the first decades of martial law. They reflect her personal experiences with loss and the difficulties of building a life as a widowed, defiant mother in a devastated land.

This week, Colorado Review published my book review of this work. Here’s a fragment:

“The seven stories in The Age of Doubt strikingly reveal the inner lives of women who struggle as much with the scarcities and cruelties of Korea’s postwar era as with society’s restraints on whom they are allowed to love. In our current world, where many are still punished for whom they love, where breaking taboos can lead to injustice, where women are told to accept men’s transgressions as inescapable, The Age of Doubt reads terrifyingly timely.”

Please read my full review in Colorado Review.

You can find more of my recommendations for books in translation by Korean authors in this post.

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