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"Two Mules" by Choi Il-nam

#Books on Demand l 2020-07-07

Books on Demand

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When Father and the mule arrived at the bottom of the incline, he was already tightening his grip around the reins and getting ready to dash up the hill at one go. In the past, the mule had no problem pulling a cart carrying 400 coal blocks up the hill. But for some reason, today it stopped halfway up the incline.


Father, taken aback, pulled the reins hard to urge the mule to move. 

That was when the mule appeared to relax its legs. Then the cart tipped over. 


But the real trouble was just about to happen.


그 가파른 골목길 어귀에 이르자 아버지는 미리서 노새 고삐를 낚아 잡고 

한 달음에 올라갈 채비를 하였다.

그러나 어쩐 일인지 다른 때 같으면 사백장 정도 싣고는

힘 안들이고 올라설 수 있는 고개인데도 이날따라 오름길 중턱에서 턱 걸리고 말았다.

아버지는 어, 하는 눈치더니 고삐를 거머쥐고 힘껏 당겼다.

그 때였다.

노새가 발에서 잠깐 힘을 빼는가 싶더니 마차가 아래쪽으로 와르르 흘러내렸다.

그러나 정작 일은 그 다음에 벌어지고 말았다.



Just managing to gain his footing, Father ran after the mule and the boy followed him. 



The mule ran and ran. It felt like flying now that it didn’t have any coal bricks to pull. There were no more inclines, no more whipping, no more people trying to stop it.


A man precariously carrying a box of beer bottles on his bicycle was trying to sidestep a person in front of him who was walking backward to avoid the mule. But the man let go of the handle and the bottles crashed to the ground.


Women with towels wrapped around their heads were the first ones to jump out of their seats behind their stalls. The pandemonium spread quickly in all directions. 


By the time it crossed the bridge, it saw much broader streets with no traffic lights. 


The mule just passed through the tollgate without paying anything and slowed down a bit after that. But it never stopped running. 


노새는 뛰고 또 뛰었다.

연탄 짐을 매지 않은 몸은 훨훨 날것 같았다.

가파른 길도 없었고, 채찍질도 없었고, 앞길을 막는 사람도 없었다.


자전거에 맥주 상자를 싣고 기우뚱기우뚱 건너가던 인부가

앞사람이 갑자기 뒷걸음질 치는 바람에 자전거의 핸들을 놓쳐 술 상자가 우르르 넘어졌다.

머리에 수건을 동이고 좌판앞에 앉아 있던 아낙네들이 아이구 이걸 어쩌지, 하면서

벌떡 일어서는 것을 신호로 시징 안에 벌집 쑤신 듯한 소동이 사방으로 번져갔다.

다리를 건너고 얼마를 가자 길어 넓어지고 앞이 툭 트였다.

노새는 돈도 안 내고 톨게이트를 빠져나가더니 그 때부터는 다소 속도를 늦추었다.

그러나 절대로 뛰는 일을 멈추지는 않았다.



Interview by SNU Korean literature professor Bang Min-ho

A mule is a hybrid animal, the offspring of a male donkey and a mare. But mules are infertile, unable to breed baby mules. This fact is very symbolic in this story. The father makes a living by driving a mule-drawn cart. But that job is unlikely to exist for long, not when there are trucks and taxis and automobiles racing down motorways and expressways. There is no way that mule carts can survive against such competition. There are no more mule-drawn carts. The story is very symbolic in that the non-viability of his job indicates that people like the boy’s father would no longer exist in the future. 




Choi Il-nam (Born in Jeonju, Jeollabuk-do Prov., Dec. 29, 1932)

: Debuted by publishing “Payang (Dissolution of Adoption)” in 1956

Won the Yi Sang Literary Award in 1986, the Inchon Prize in the literature category of the 61st Seoul Culture Awards in 2012, etc. 

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