A Surrealist dream journey across time which negotiates the interface between the historical and the mythic, Bae Suah’s Untold Night and Day is both fantasy and Magical Realist, detective novel and philosophy, filled with conversations which recall Dostoevsky, bizarre and fantastic elements which recall Angela Carter, and a storyline which parallels Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood. It may also be the greatest work of Korean literature yet written, and a wonderful introduction to its culture.
A single day as a visiting poet’s guide to Seoul becomes an Orphic underworld journey, marked by a reiteration of incantatory words and claustrophobic phrases which, like the language of Harold Pinter in The Dumbwaiter, signal themes of alienation, loneliness, and the modern pathology of disconnectedness. With a main character whose name refers to a shaman’s spirit guide, we are led through the stages of a hierosgamos as dream quest.
Translator of Sebald, Erpenbeck, and Kafka, Bae Suah recalls Murakami, frames her narrative as metafiction referencing fellow Kafka translator Sadegh Hedayat’s The Blind Owl, and has in this short novel constructed a hall of mirrors of shifting identities, distorted images, echoes, illusions, falsifications, reincarnations; a labyrinth of transformation in the form of a story whose theme is the relationship between identity and time as memory and history.