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"Duet" by Eun Hee-kyung

#Books on Demand l 2020-03-24

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March Special “Women in Literature”

Episode 4 “Duet” by Eun Hee-kyung



It was Jeong-sun who wanted to go all the way out to Paldal Road lined with beef rib restaurants. She probably didn’t want her daughter, who was visiting home, to have watery, bland kimchi at any old restaurant if she couldn’t cook for her at home. 


More importantly, it was her daughter In-hye’s birthday today.  She probably couldn’t have celebrated her birthday properly, not while she struggled to make ends meet with her husband and children in Seoul. 


It might have been due to the distance she had traveled today, but In-hye looked even more like a 30-ish woman exhausted by life’s heavy load. 


굳이 갈비집이 많은 팔달로까지 나가자고 한 것은 정순이었다.

고향에 내려온 딸에게 손수 밥을 지어 먹이지는 못할망정

아무 식당에나 들어가 양념이 덜 들어간 희멀건 김치를

뒤적거리게 하고 싶지가 않았던 것이다.

더구나 오늘은 딸 인혜의 생일이다.

그동안 서울 살림에 쪼들리고

남편과 자식에 치여서 제 생일인들 한 번 제대로 챙겨먹었을까.

먼길을 와서인지 오늘따라 인혜의 얼굴에는

삶에 지친 삼십대 여자의 표정이 고스란히 드러나 있다.



Published in 1995, “Duet” is told from the perspectives of Jeong-sun and her daughter, In-hye. 



“Mom, do you miss Dad?” 

“I don’t know. I still can’t believe that he’s gone.” 

“Just remember how he tormented you. Honestly, didn’t you hate him a lot? He caused you so much grief with his womanizing.”

“That’s not a nice thing for a daughter to say to her father. Womanizing, my god. I told you everyone lived like that in those days.” 

“I will stay with you for a few more days. When else can I have the luxury to spend time with you like this? We’ll bad-mouth Dad.” 

“Nope, I won’t do it. I won’t bad-mouth your Dad.” 


The two women looked at the photograph of Jeong-sun’s husband at the same time. Just as they had done so far, the mother and daughter drowned their sorrows deep down in their eyes and floated only hardened serenity on their retinas. 


“엄마! 아버지 그리워요?”

“글쎄다, 네 아버지 떠난 것이 아직 잘 믿기지가 않는구나”

“아버지 미운 점만 생각하세요. 사실 미울 때도 많았잖아요.

 여자 문제로 엄마 속도 무던히 썩이시고”

“딸 자식이 아버지한테 못하는 소리가 없다.

 여자문제가 뭐냐, 그 시절엔 다 그렇게 살았대두”

“며칠 더 있다 갈게요. 아버지 험담도 해가면서”

“아이고 나는 싫다. 아버지 험담은”

그러면서 모녀는 동시에 정순 남편의 영정쪽으로 고개를 돌린다.

지금까지 슬픔을 이겨온 방식대로

모녀는 그 슬픔을 눈 속 깊숙이 가라앉히고

망막 위로는 단단한 평온만을 띄워놓고 있다.



Interview by literature critic Jeon So-yeong   

A duet refers to a musical piece played by two performers or two instruments. In this story, the lives of Jeong-sun and In-hye are likened to a duet. The two women have become mothers in two different time periods and seemed to have lived different lives – Jeong-sun lived as a simple housewife, but In-hye worked as a school teacher. However, they ended up living the same exhausting and lonely lives under the male-centered society. The mother and daughter discovered the weariness in each other and the discovery produced a poignant duet.   




Eun Hee-kyung: (Born in Gochang, Jeollabuk-do Prov., 1959)

: Debuted by winning Dong-a Ilbo’s Spring Literary Contest with “Duet” in 1995

Won the Dongseo Literature Award in 1997, etc.

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