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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Twofold Song

Yi Mun-yol

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To purchase Twofold Song

Title: Twofold Song
Author: Yi Mun-yol
Genre: Story
Written: 2004 (Eng. 2004)
Length: 112 pages
Original in: Korean
Availability: Twofold Song - US
Twofold Song - UK
Twofold Song - Canada
  • Korean title: 두겹의 노래
  • This bilingual edition includes the original Korean text
  • Translated by Kwon Kyong-Mi
  • With illustrations by Kwak Sun-young
  • With an afterword by Lee Nam-ho
  • With an afterword by Rhee Nami

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Our Assessment:

B : attractive (bilingual edition), simple but curiously spun-out story

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Twofold Song begins:

     Life is loneliness. Or it is not loneliness. Why should it not be loneliness ?
       And the whole short story continues to be steeped in such darkish ambiguity and ambivalence.
       Twofold Song is a fairly simple story, consisting almost entirely of a single episode, centered around a man and a woman who have been having an affair for some three years finally going their separate ways. With their spare dialogue and then a lyrical and surreal take on their meeting (and a brief coda that is almost clinically realist, and stands slightly apart from the rest), Yi evokes the complexity of relationships and loss.
       Like a lens that, depending on how it is rotated, distorts the image seen through it, Yi's scenes shift effortlessly between naturalism and fantasy. Meeting outdoors, in a park, the couple can watch as a:
building sinks the day's share into the ground. You see, that side of the city caves in about one foot per day.
       The lovers also veer between efforts at maintaining a cool reserve, easing the pain of separation, and a literally hot lust. Emotions manifest themselves in various physical ways, a secondary layer that is described but barely acknowledged -- as, for example: "A purple mushroom sprouts in the middle of his temple".
       They wind up having sex, allowing Yi to indulge completely in lyrical surreality; so:
A small but brilliant rainbow appears around her mouth. Soon, it will rise up in a sparkling cloud. Her sweat-drenched arms, resembling gigantic pink mucus, dig into his heated spine like the tendons in the pelt. And her legs, like a pair of giant tentacles determined to devour its pray, tighten around the man's crotch, the burning copper pillar. A volcano resting near their feet erupts in smoke and begins to seethe with torrents of lava.
       This isn't easy to translate, and the translation doesn't read particularly smoothly, but one gets an idea and sense of what Yi is trying to do. Symbol-laden, poetic-waxing, this won't be everyone's cup of tea -- but Yi is creative (and grounded) enough (and pulls things together (even as they fall apart) with an inspired closing bit), and the story is short enough that one can put up even with the slightly rough translation.
       Twofold Song is also presented in an attractive little volume: not only does it offer the original Korean text along with the translation, but it is also appealingly illustrated by Kwak Sun-young's colorful Henri Rousseau-like pictures. (There are also two brief afterwords -- one on the text, one on the illustration --, but they are of minimal interest and helpfulness.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 November 2009

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Twofold Song: Reviews: Other books by Yi Munyol under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Korean literature
  • See Index of Bilingual editions under review

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About the Author:

       (South) Korean author Yi Mun Yol (이문열, Yi Munyol, Yi Mun-yol) was born in 1948. He has won numerous literary prizes, and his work has been translated into several foreign languages.

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