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“The Lady of the Shack” by Kim Jong-ae.

#Books on Demand l 2022-06-14

Books on Demand

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When the rations were terminated and the Arduous March began, those who couldn’t go to work because of the food shortage had to fill out something called an 8.3 form. It was a set of documents about recycling production. Workers had to produce assorted goods to the specification of the Communist Party and offer them to their workplaces or party organizations. It was, in essence, a social task assigned to each workplace. If they didn’t have any goods to manufacture, they had to give a commensurate amount of cash.


할머니가 다가들며 경심이의 천 가방을 열었다.

반짝이는 알루미늄 양재기가 결혼하면서 갖고 온 기물이라는 것을 

알고 있는 은심 할머니가 와뜰 놀라며 경심을 주시한다.

The old neighbor opened Kyong-shim’s bag. Realizing that the shiny aluminum pot was Kyong-shim’s wedding gift, the surprised old woman stared at her.


그 눈이 무엇을 묻고 있는가를 아는 경심은

할 수 없이 그릇을 팔러 떠나게 된 사연을 터놓았다.

풀죽만 먹다가 물로 이틀을 견뎠다는 말까지는 꺼내지 못하고

그냥 설움에 치밀어 울음을 터트리고 말았다.

Knowing what the old neighbor’s gaze meant, Kyong-shim told her why she had to sell the pot. She couldn’t bring herself to say that her family had survived on only water for the last two days. Instead, she burst into tears.


“우린 순철이네가 식량 때문에 이렇게까지 고생하는 줄은 몰랐소.

에구, 말을 해야지. 지금이 어떤 세월인데.... 

이웃이 사촌보다 낫다는 소릴 못 들었소?“ 

그러지 말고 우리 집 강냉이를 먼저 갖다 먹소. 

우리 집에 먹을 게 떨어지기 전에 갚아 주면 되오.”

“I didn’t realize your family was starving. Why didn’t you tell me? Haven’t you heard that a neighbor is better than a relative in such a situation?” (Neighbor)

Kyong-shim’s sobs grew louder with the old woman’s thoughtful affection. 

“Take our corn for your family. You can pay it back before we run out of food.” (Neighbor)




# Interview 2 (Jeon)

The family was starving to death, but Kyong-shim was the only one who tried to do something to save them. Her husband powerless and the Communist Party secretary sponged common people dry instead of easing their pain. Although North Korea is a patriarchal society, women came to bear full responsibility for taking care of their families ever since their economy tanked in the late twentieth century. Kyong-shim in the story represents the hardship and resilience of North Korean women. Also at the end, her old neighbor shares her meager food. This scene demonstrates that the writer values the solidarity among women and their sense of community.



경심은 의식이 흐려지고 몸이 땅 밑으로 잦아드는 것을 어렴풋이 느꼈다.

이게 죽음이라는 것도 안다. 어젯밤 분명 겪었으니까.

그러나 엊저녁과는 상대적으로 다른 만족감이 차분히 가슴에 내려앉는 것을 경심은 느꼈다. 어젯밤엔 슬펐지만 지금은 행복했다. 이렇게 가도 식구들은 사니까, 아니 살렸으니까.

Kyong-shim fell to the floor slowly as she saw her family’s miserable behavior. 

She felt her consciousness slipping away and her body sinking deep into the ground. She knew this was what death felt like because she had experienced it the day before. But unlike last night, she felt her heart calming down from satisfaction. She was sad last night, but now she was happy. She may be dying, but her family will live. No, she saved them.


엄마가 돼 애들을 굶주림에서 꺼내 주고 죽음에서 살렸다는 만족감이 가슴 그득히 차오른다. 이건 느낌이 아닌 분명한 현실이다.

Her heart was filled with the satisfaction that she saved her children from starving to death. It wasn’t just a feeling, but a fact. 


식구들은 엄마가 그리고 아내가 지금 운명하고 있다는 것도 몰랐다.

눈 앞엔 널린 강냉이가 아닌 살 수 있는 생명만 보였다.

경심이는 그 모습을 끝까지 보려 눈을 뜬 채로 움직임을 멈춘다.

오르내리던 가슴도 잠잠해진다.

여윈 얼굴에 그 때까지 지우지 않은 미소가 백합처럼 피어 있었다.

Her family didn’t realize that Kyong-shim was dying. She didn’t see the corn spilled on the floor, but only the lives she had saved. Kyong-shim stopped moving but kept her eyes open to see them until the end. Her chest stopped moving. An enduring smile like a lily bloomed on her bony face.  




Kim Jong-ae, (born in Chongjin, 1968~ )

Debuted with “BOB” in 2014

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