BRIANNA HIRAMI WRITES — You may have been able to guess by the eerie-looking bunny presented in inverted colors on the cover that this tale is anything but light and happy. Bora Chung’s fascinating and unique short story collection, Cursed Bunny, displays the most disturbing truths about the nature of mankind through a fantastical yet realistic narrative. By including ten short stories, Chung is easily able to capture the reader’s full attention by making her audience feel disgusted and uncomfortable, yet highly intrigued and captivated. This slender beast of a book contains many themes that leave a lasting impression on the reader that may cause them to need a deep breath – and maybe even a drink – between stories.
One reoccurring theme that comes across in many of Chung’s short stories is that of humanity’s innate inclination toward selfishness despite the repercussions it may have on other people. How can a species be so empathetic and psychopathic all at once? Could it be, that the step toward curing the human condition requires that we accept this cosmic curse?
Bora Chung’s first English translated work, Cursed Bunny, is one of several literary works that remind the reader about the harsh cruelties of the world that are often difficult to swallow. Along with publishing three novels and two other short story collections, she also translates modern literary works from Russian and Polish into Korean. None of her other works have been translated into English yet, but Cursed Bunny is an incredible beginning for English readers to understand complex ideologies from Chung’s perspective.
We cannot forget to give credit to the talented Anton Hur for the impeccable translation of Chung’s work. The translation of Cursed Bunny is so beautifully natural, that it is often easy to forget that this was first written in Korean. Hur has received multiple awards for his translations and has taught the art of translation at many esteemed Universities.
One of the most captivating short stories that describes the complex emotions of selfishness, greed, and revenge is titled, “Cursed Bunny.” The story is told through the lens of a grandson whose grandfather repeatedly tells him the story of a “cursed bunny.” The story revolves around a cursed bunny lamp that was made for the grandfather’s friend. According to the grandfather, his friend’s distillery company was ruined by a greedy competitor who spread lies about their drinks. The grandfather explains that “they claimed that anyone who drank [their drinks] would become blind, lame, or even fatally poisoned. Sales for my grandfather’s friend took a nosedive.”
The grandfather’s poor friend commits suicide due to the debt accumulated from the lawsuits and the plummeting business. The heartbroken grandfather then created the cursed bunny lamp to ruin the life of the other company’s CEO. Initially the cursed bunny only shreds the documents and boxes inside of the company’s warehouse, but once the cursed bunny falls into the hands of the innocent grandson, it creates absolute chaos and destruction inside of the house of the CEO’s son.
The CEO’s grandson quickly descends into unexplained insanity and acts completely different than how he used to. He does not recognize his parents, he mutters unintelligible words, spends all day in bed, and grows insanely obsessed over the lamp. The grandson dies next to the bunny lamp, and the rest of the family dies soon after. The family that was once filled with money and prosperity quickly began to suffer the consequences of their greed.
Another story that implicitly comments on the theme of selfishness is “Ruler of the Winds and Sands.” This story follows a blind prince and a benevolent princess that are soon to be wedded. The blind prince’s father claims that a sorcerer, known as the master of the golden ship, cursed the father’s lineage for cutting off the sorcerer’s arm in war. Three months before the princess and the prince’s wedding, the prince explains to his fiancé the story of the sorcerer and how their children will also be born blind. The nervous princess then sneaks out of the castle and with great courage asks the sorcerer to lift the curse for the prince and their future children. The sorcerer complies with her request, but says that he did not curse their family, but rather, ‘“they were cursed because they started the war. The air from the horizon to the sun and moon is a place man may not rule. My ship has sailed peacefully in that air since the dawn of time. It was the king of the desert blinded by his greed for gold, who first drew his weapon.”’
When the princess returns to the castle, the prince’s vision is restored, and he and the entire kingdom celebrate the curse being lifted. However, the king and the prince immediately began planning to kill the sorcerer, take the gold from his ship, and rule beyond the horizon. The princess tries to protest this plan, and pleas for her prince to stop the war, but the prince cruelly ignores her and orders her death. The prince’s love and appreciation that he had for her vanished instantly, replaced instead by his own selfish desires. Luckily, the sorcerer hastily destroys the entire kingdom, killing the prince and king along the way. The message is very clear: selfishness destroys the body and the mind.
Chung displays through her stories how egocentricity can make people do despicable and horrendous acts against others. The yearning for one’s own wishes can overcome any desire to be a moral and good person. People become dispensable objects, backstabbing becomes normal, and a self-interested type of tunnel vision forms. The pain that others suffer is irrelevant because personal gain is worth every ounce of blood that is shed along the way. The truly scary part of all of this? Anyone can succumb to the evil bliss of self-obsession.
New book reviewer, Brianna Hirami, is a recent graduate of Loyola Marymount University with a major in English and a minor in Asian and Pacific Studies. Brianna will continue following her passion in English and attend LMU again to receive her Master’s in Literature. She is interested in learning more about Asian culture by reading literature that is set in Korea and learning to speak Japanese.