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"The Death of My Grandmother" by Hyun Jin-geon

#Books on Demand l 2020-06-30

Books on Demand

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The story begins with the main character getting a telegram on the last day of March saying that his grandmother is critically ill. 



I got off the train, feeling anxious that she may have already passed away. I entered the dark alley and, as I approached my childhood home, my heart pounded as if I could hear the wailings of the mourners. 


When I stepped into the living room, my exhausted relatives who clearly hadn’t gotten a minute of sleep dragged me into a small room where my grandmother was staying. My grandmother was resting in the room. She still seemed to be breathing. 


새로 석 점이 지나 기차를 내린 나는 벌써 돌아가시지나 않았나(하)고 염려를 하며

캄캄한 골목을 돌아들어 생가(生家)의 삽짝 가까이 다다를 제

곡성이 나는 듯 나는 듯하여 마음이 조마조마 하였다.


마루에 올라선 내가 안방 아랫방에서 뛰어나온 잠 못잔 피로한 얼굴들에게 이끌리어

할머니의 거처하는 단칸 건넌방으로 들어가니

할머니는 깔아진 듯이 아랫목에 누웠으되 오히려 숨은 붙어 있었다.



interview by literature critic Jeon So-yeong

Family members can be intimate yet distant at the same time. They are linked by blood, but that tie is not as strong as we like, so sometimes family members can grow apart really quickly. In this story, the grandmother’s impending death is an indicator for the family’s loose ties. Because she keeps recovering, her family members care for her out of duty, not out of their love for her. They have gathered together supposedly to bid farewell to their beloved grandmother, but their attitudes and psychological states say otherwise. The author captured how family members act without sincerity even when faced with death.



“I don’t think she will pass anytime soon. What am I going to do? I can’t go home.”

“You’re right. I don’t think she’ll die soon.” 

“Maybe we could call a doctor and have her examined.” 


The doctor was a good friend of my father’s. The rotund Dr. Kim showed up at the house before long. He closed his eyes as if trying to concentrate and felt her pulse for a long time before shaking his head.


“I’m sorry to tell you this, but she won’t be able to make it past tonight or tomorrow.” 


So the grandchildren had to settle down again. But Grandmother seemed to get better that evening. 


Next day went by without an incident and, deriding the inaccuracy of traditional medicine, some of us argued that western medicine would be better when predicting one’s lifespan and called a doctor of western medicine. 



“암만해도 오늘 내일 돌아가실 것 같지는 않은데.... 이거 큰일 났는 걸, 갈 수도 없고...”

“딴은 곧 돌아가실 것 같지는 않아~”

“의사를 불러서 진단을 해 보는 것이 어떨까요?”


의원은 아버지와 절친한 김주부를 청해 오기로 하였다.

갓을 쓴 그 의원은 얼마 아니 되어 미륵같은 몸뚱이를 환자방에 나타내었다.

매우 정신을 모으는 듯이 눈을 내리감고 한 나절이나 진맥을 하더니

고개를 절레절레 흔들려 물러앉는다.


“매우 말씀하기 안되었소마는 아마 오늘밤이 아니면 내일은 못 넘길 것 같소”


가려던 자손은 또 붙잡히었다. 그러나 할머니는 그날 저녁부터 한결 돌리었다.

그 이튿날이 무사히 지나가자 한의의 무지를 비소하고,

다른 것은 몰라도 환자의 수명이 어느 때까지 계속될 시간 아는 데 들어서는 

양의가 나으리라는 주장에 의하여 양의학 박사를 불러오게 되었다.




Hyun Jin-geon (Born in Daegu, Gyeongsangbuk-do Prov., Sep. 2, 1900~Apr. 25, 1943)

: Debuted by publishing “Huisaenghwa” in magazine Gaebyeok in 1920

Notable works include “One Lucky Day,” “My Destitute Wife,” “The Society that Drives You to Drink,” etc. 

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