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Contradictions by Yang Gui-Ja

126 Contradictions
Translated by Stephen EPSTEIN and KIM Mi-Young
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In Contradictions, a coming-of-age tale, Yang Gui-ja explores the paradoxes and contradictions of the human condition and delves into the meaning of love, marriage and personal happiness. The opening chapter sounds the keynote: An Jin-jin, the first person narrator, awakes one morning with a determined cry to devote all her energy to her life. Her struggle over whom to marry informs the novel, as the text contemplates how easily such a decision can determine one’s fate, a fact impressed upon Jin-jin by the divergence she has witnessed in the lives of her mother and her mother's twin sister.  The novel goes on to present a host of binary oppositions that include Na Yeong-gyu and Kim Jang-u, the two men who are courting her; Jin-jin’s brother Jin-mo, the wannabe gang boss; her cousin Ju-hyeok, the Ivy League graduate; Jin-jin’s father, an alcoholic (and apparently schizophrenic) vagrant who thinks too deeply about things; and her uncle, a steadfast, rigid architect. Nonetheless, Yang is too talented a writer not to problematize the oppositions that she sets up, and as the novel develops a series of surprises begins to unfold. | 192 pages


  • Introduction
  1. Into the World with a Cry
  2. Lies
  3. A Human Landscape
  4. My Father, at Melancholy Sunsets
  5. Indistinct Shadows of Love
  6. The Meaning of Those Ten Minutes, Long, Long Ago
  7. Wallowing in Misery
  8. Sweet Ju-ri
  9. On the Road to Dosol Hermitage, Seonun Temple
  10. Three Memos about Love
  11. A Fourth Memo about Love
  12. Unbearable, All Too Unbearable
  13. The Day After We Parted
  14. Christmas Present
  15. Bittersweet
  16. A Letter
  17. Contradictions
  • Afterword



  • Yang Gui-Ja, one of Korea’s major literary figures of the last generation, has a succession of literary prizes and best-sellers to her credit. Her most representative early work, the 1987 Weonmi-dong saramdeul (The People of Weonmidong), now available in English as A Distant and Beautiful Place, is a compilation of loosely interconnected short stories that explores the social upheavals engendered by Korea’s careening rush into modernization, industrialization and urbanization. During the 1990s, Yang’s writing took an increasingly personal turn in a series of hugely popular works, which include Mosun (Contradictions), the best-selling novel in South Korea for 1998.


  • Stephen EPSTEIN is Director of the Asian Studies Institute at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. His research focuses on contemporary literature and society, and he has translated several pieces of Korean and Indonesian fiction, including the winner of the 1990 Korea Times translation contest in the short story category. E-mail:
  • KIM Mi-Young is currently teaching Korean and pursuing a master's degree in Applied Linguistics at Victoria University. In addition to Contradictions, she has translated short stories by award-winning authors Park Wan-suh and Kim In-suk.

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