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Korea Blog: the Techno-Mythological Imagination of Kim Bo-young’s I’m Waiting for You

South Korea has one of the first populations who can claim to have collectively traveled through time. In a trivial sense, of course, we all travel through time, forward at a rate of one hour per hour, one day per day, one year per year. But this country, as no introduction fails to mention, underwent in the second half of the 20th century a transformation already seen in other societies — “development,” “modernization,” “Westernization,” call it what you like — but at an unprecedented speed. Aggressive industrialization compressed a century of history into just a few decades, and the aftereffects of that process account for much of the good, the bad, and the weird in Korean life today. Among other traces, it has left tragi-comically wide generation gaps: for many Koreans, interactions with their parents feel like Westerners’ interactions with their disoriented great-grandparents.

“My dad lived his whole life in his hometown,” says the narrator of the story “I’m Waiting for You.” But “by the time he passed away our hometown was a completely different place from where he was born. Buildings had been put up and roads laid, mountains flattened, and the courses of rivers diverted. Time moved him to somewhere completely different. Who could possibly say that he lived in one place his whole life?” The reflection comes in one of a series of letters to this narrator’s fiancée, whom he won’t be able to see for nearly five years. Both are aboard separate spaceships, she to emigrate to a distant solar system with her family, and he expressly — by way of light-speed travel’s dilation of time for the traveler — more quickly to pass the years her trip will require before they reunite for their wedding on Earth.

For his fiancée doesn’t intend to stay with her family, of whose meddling in her life she’s had enough. She wouldn’t be the first Korean to go to great lengths to get away from relatives, nor the first to engage in instrumental immigration: “anyone who travels to another solar system gets an outer planets residency permit,” she explains, and “there are loads of advantages when it comes to taxes and things like that.” The more things change, as many a literary vision of the future has meant to show us, the more they stay the same. But change is precisely what the narrator’s fellow emigrants in time went into the “Orbit of Waiting” hoping for: “Some people are traveling to the year their pension plan matures, others hope real estate taxes will come down while they’re away. There are artists too, who believe they were born in the wrong era.”

Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books.