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"The Man Who Was Left as Nine Pairs of Shoes" by Yun Heung-gil

#Books on Demand l 2019-02-19

Books on Demand

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Mr. Oh is the story’s narrator and a high school teacher in Seongnam on the outskirts of Seoul. He had bought a house there but had to rent out a room since he couldn’t keep it up on his teacher’s salary. The new tenant was the story’s protagonist, Mr. Kwon and his family.

Apparently, Mr. Kwon’s shoe-shining skills were way better than the average. Even the tools he used were in a complete set much like the ones belonging to a professional. 

When the shoes were gleaming like plated metal sheets, Mr. Kwon’s eyes came up from my feet to my face. He was smiling brightly. His eyes were shining as brilliantly as the point of his shoes. 

보아하니 권씨의 구두 닦기 실력은 보통에서 훨씬 벗어나 있었다.

사용하는 도구들도 전문 직업인 못잖이 구색을 맞춰 일습을 갖추고 있었다.

마침내 도금을 올린 금속제인 양 

구두가 번쩍번쩍 빛이 나게 되자

권씨의 시선이 내 발을 거쳐 얼굴로 올라왔다.

그는 활짝 웃고 있었다. 그의 눈이 자기 구두코만큼이나 요란하게 빚을 뿜었다.

Interview with literary critic Jeon So-yeong

In August of 1971, there was a terrible incident involving the urban poor. As a part of an urban renewal program, the government had relocated the residents of an illegal shantytown in Seoul to a large residential complex in Gwangju, Gyeonggi-do Province. But there was an administrative glitch in the relocation process, infuriating the poor slum residents to revolt. Author Yun Heung-gil criticized the reality by using the riot as the event that led to Kwon’s appearance in the story. 

I sent children along with my wife to the hospital and searched Mr. Kwon’s room thoroughly. 

It was the first time since I rented out the room that I looked around the inside in broad daylight. Where a wardrobe should be placed as the most prized household item, there were nine pairs of shoes all neatly lined up like soldiers ready for inspection. 

Six pairs were impeccably polished and three were coated in dust. Of ten pairs he had, he must have picked seven pairs that he liked and shined them all at once to wear them alternately, one pair for each day of the week.

I thought about one pair of shoes that were missing from the seven well-polished ones and realized that pair of shoes wouldn’t return home anytime soon. 

아내가 병원에 다니러 가는 편에 아이들을 죄다 딸려 보낸 다음,

나는 문간방을 샅샅이 뒤졌다.

가장 값나가는 세간의 자격으로 장롱 따위가 자리잡고 있을 때,

꼭 그런 자리에 아홉 켤레나 되는 구두들이

사열받는 병정들 모양으로 가지런히 놓여 있었다.

정갈하게 닦인 것이 여섯 켤레,

그리고 먼지를 뒤집어 쓴 게 세 켤레였다.

모두 해서 열 켤레 가운데 마음에 드는 일곱 켤레를 골라 한꺼번에 손질을 해서 

매일매일 갈아신을 한 주일의 소용에 당해온 모양이었다.

잘 닦여진 일곱 중에서 비어있는 하나를 생각하던 중 나는 한 켤레의 그 구두가

그렇게 쉽사리 돌아오지 않으리란 걸 알딸딸하게 깨달았다.

Yun Heung-gil (Born on Dec. 14, 1942, in Jeongeup, Jeollabuk-do Prov.)

: 1968 Published “The Season of a Gray Crown” on Hankook Ilbo

 2010    Won the 14th Modern Buddhist Literature Awards

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