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"Leaving Work" by Cheon Myeong-kwan

#Books on Demand l 2019-11-12

Books on Demand

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Cheon Myeong-kwan’s “Leaving Work,” published in 2014, is set in the near future. Prices are soaring and people are losing jobs with the unemployment rate reaching 90%. 



“You are still young and healthy. Why can’t you get a job?” 


It has been more than ten years since the unemployment rate hit 90%. Finding a job has become a dream as ludicrous as a belief that good people go to heaven after they die. 


But coordinators still badgered the jobless people as if they were responsible for the situation.


“아직 나이도 젋고 사지도 멀쩡한데 왜 일을 못 구해?” 


실업률이 구십 퍼센트를 넘어선 지 십년이 넘어

직업을 구하는 건 이제 죽어서 천국에 간다는 얘기만큼이나 허황된 꿈이 되었다.

그런데도 조정관들은 언제나 모든 책임이 실업자에게 있다는 듯

호되게 몰어붙이곤 했다.



The man’s father disappeared when the man turned 10 years old. He simply left home, leaving behind his wife and his two children. Mother said he had fallen for another woman. The man had a miserable life since then.   



The man asked his father the question he has been keeping in his heart all these years. 


“Why did you leave us?” 

“Leave you? Who told you that?” 

“Mom. She said you left us for another woman.” 

“That damn woman told you that?”


The man remembered then how his parents used to fight. 


“That’s a misunderstanding. You of all people should know that.” 

"But then why didn’t you come visit us even once? Do you know that Mi-suk died? Where were you when she died without getting even a single treatment because we didn’t have any money? Why didn’t you call us?”


“I’m sorry. I have no excuse for not being there for Mi-suk but me leaving you guys for a woman is totally wrong. I never left you.” 


Father’s voice was tinged with sadness. 


“What do you mean? You never came home in all 30 years.” 

“I didn’t leave you. I just couldn’t leave work.” 


남자는 수 십년간 마음속에 품어왔던 의문을 아버지 앞에 꺼내놓았다.


“근데 왜 우리를 버리신 거예요?” 

“내가 너희를 버렸다고? 누가 그런 소릴 하디?” 

“엄마가요. 다른 여자가 생겨서 우릴 버리고 떠난 거라구요”

“얘야, 그건 오해란다. 다른 사람은 몰라도 넌 그걸 이해해야 돼“

“그럼 왜 한 번도 찾아오지 않았어요? 미숙이가 죽은 건 알고 계세요?

 병원비도 없어서 치료도 한 번 못 받고 죽어갔는데 왜 한 번도 연락이 없었던 거예요?”

“미안하다.

 미숙이에 대해선 입이 열개라도 할 말이 없지만

 내가 여자 때문에 집을 나갔다는 건 정말 오해란다.

 난 사실 집을 나간 적이 한 번도 없어”


“난 집을 나간 게 아니라..... 아직 퇴근을 못하고 있는거야”



Interview by SNU Korean Literature Professor Bang Min-ho

Not being able to get off work means long working hours. The author wanted to mock long working hours in Korea by putting the father character in a situation where he’s kept working all those years. On the other hand, the son is at the other end of the employment spectrum where he couldn’t find a job and couldn’t raise his child properly. These two extreme situations were created as a satirical mechanism. 




Cheon Myeong-kwan (Born in 1964, Yongin, Gyeonggi-do Prov.)

: Debuted with short story “Frank and I” in 2003

Won the Young Writer’s Award at the 7th Gusang Literature Awards in 2015, etc.

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