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"High Voltage Lines" by Cho Sun-jak

#Books on Demand l 2020-10-20

Books on Demand

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How can I even begin to describe the overwhelming joy of buying my own house after saving up for 11 years? As my wife said, I don’t even want to remember the humiliation of the trials and tribulations we went through to save 1.3 million won to buy a home. 

“Must we live like this? We can’t call this living.” 

월급쟁이 십 일년 만에 내 집을 하나 장만하게 된 감격스러움이야 

어찌 필설로 다 이르겠는가.

내 집 갖기 작전의 순 자기 자본 일금 일백 삼십만원의 거금을 만들기까지 겪어온 파란곡절은,

아내 말마따나 참말 치사하고 더러워서 돌이켜보고 싶지도 않다.

“이러면서도 살아야만 하는 걸까, 이렇게 사는 것도 산다고 할 수 있어요?” 

하고 말하며 아내는 곧잘 무참한 표정을 짓고는 했다.

Cho Sun-jak’s “High Voltage line,” published in 1974, starts with this scene between a 37-year-old man and his wife. The story talks metaphorically about the invisible violence that threatens ordinary people’s everyday lives through the high voltage lines. 

Interview by literature critic Jeon So-yeong

Housing shortage had been a serious problem since the Korean War. In the 1970s, when Korea underwent rapid industrialization, the population in the capital city exploded. Many wanted to put down their roots in Seoul by buying homes, but most of them had to live in rented rooms or constantly move from one place to another. The story of the narrator’s family is a vivid example of ordinary Koreans’ lives during those decades.


I decided to think differently after closing the deal. There were people who couldn’t even afford such a house and who had to live in rented homes all their lives. Even though it was built below the power lines, it was much better than living in a house that flooded every time it rained or that stood on a steep hill that you had to scale every day or that looked out to a cemetery. 

Nothing was inconvenienced by having power lines above your head. I decided to take it in a positive light as I repeated what the realtor said – “It all depends on how you think.” 

집을 계약하고 나서 나는 생각을 고쳐먹기로 했다.

그만한 집도 없이 셋방살이로만 전전하는 사람들이 아직도 얼마나 많은가.

아무리 고압선 밑이라고는 하지만,

비만 오면 구들장까지 물바다가 된다는 둑방 밑 동네나,

숨이 턱까지 차오르며 헐떡거리며 기어올라야 하는 산비탈 동네보다,

공동묘지가 마주 보이는 기분 나쁜 동네보다야 훨씬 낫지 않은가?

머리위로 고압선이 지난데서 도시 불편할 것은 없거든.

나는 이렇게 낙천적으로 생각하기로 했다.

그저 모든 것은 생각하기 나름이라는 복덕방 영감쟁이의 말을 

자꾸만 되뇌면서 말이다 

Cho Sun-jak (Born in Daejeon, Feb. 3, 1940)

: Debuted with short story “The Tomb of the Patriots” in 1971

Major works include “The Preview (1971),” “Yeongja’s Heyday (1973)” etc.

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