There a Petal Silently Falls
Ch’oe Yun is a professor of French literature at Sogang University in Seoul, South Korea, where she was born and where she studied Korean language and literature. After graduation, she studied in France where she received a doctorate. Her first publications were critical essays on literature, but in 1988, her first fiction, a novella entitled There a Petal Silently Falls, appeared. Since then, she has won a number of awards.
Although her first story in this collection of three depicts the aftereffects of the 1980 Kwangju massacre, she denies that she is an ideological writer, arguing that all literary works, no matter how neutral, have a message. She also denies that her work is experimental, as often suggested by critics. She says that to depict a constantly changing reality one must use a unique language and form because you cannot change the world with conventional methods and language. Because writing is a struggle to transcend time, she cherishes her novella There a Petal Silently Falls more than any of her other works for its timelessness and universality.
The story focuses on a fifteen-year-old girl whose brother, a victim of the repressive military government, has disappeared and whose mother has been killed in the 1980 Kwangju massacre. The riots took place a few months after a military coup, when students and labor activists engaged in a series of nationwide demonstrations, insisting on democratic elections and an end to martial law. Paratrooper units of Korea’s Special Forces Command were ordered into the city of Kwangju, killing a number of people; the government says less than two hundred; the survivors say nearly two thousand, claiming that the military burned many bodies and dumped the rest into the sea.
Influenced by her study of the critic Mikhail Bakhtin, Ch’oe Yun creates a story of several voices in polyphonic counterpoint told from three viewpoints: the young girl who has been driven half mad by her losses; a man who takes her in and abuses her; and a small group of her brother’s friends who search for her.
The story begins with a cautionary warning about a young girl haunting the gravesites in the city who may follow you (especially if you are a young man in your twenties), crying, “Brother.” The story then moves to a man who is followed by the girl. Unable to get rid of her, he takes her in and has sex with her, although she remains silent. The story shifts to the voice of the girl, as she recalls her mother lying in the street, shot, and a black curtain falling over her mind. The voice of the girl reflects her loss of contact with reality and her increasing hallucinations. She recalls the previous year, when two men came to her house and told her mother something about her brother that made her mother scream and cry.
The story shifts to the point of view of some of her brother’s friends who are searching for her, describing how she turns up in Okp’o and is made an errand girl. When the perspective shifts back to the girl again, she is not sure whether she is experiencing reality or a dream, as she finds refuge in a cave where she has to fight off a horde of beetles as big as toads. She walks for days in the mountains until she is taken in by a mute who feeds her, washes her clothes, and has sex with her, which she describes as a bluebird entering between her legs. However, once again, she cannot be sure if this happened or it if was an illusion.
In one crucial scene, she describes being on a train and seeing the face of a woman in the window, which she eventually recognizes as her own. The face in the glass becomes that of a monster that says it is going to open up her skull and remove the black curtain, until she shatters the window with her head. She now accepts the fact that she has created the black curtain to cover up everything that happened on the day her mother was killed.
In the penultimate section of the story, the girl has a hallucinatory conversation with her brother, telling him what happened on the day of her mother’s death. She confesses her mother did not want her to come with her, but that she insisted and ran after her. She feels guilty that when her mother is shot, the girl must step on her mother’s arm to free her hand, feeling the slippery blood under her feet. She laments that she can never return to that day when she committed the terrible crime of stamping on her mother’s arm so she could get away and live, feeling she has no place to go now but to the...
(The entire section is 1845 words.)