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In Session: Literary and Cinematic Afterlives of Empire in Japan and Korea
4: Zainichi Fictions from a Trans-Pacific Perspective
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States
The postcolonial experience of Zainichi Koreans (Korean residents of Japan) has long been considered an internal Japanese issue. This paper asks how contemporary historical fiction about Zainichi may broaden our conceptual frameworks of diasporic Korean post-coloniality to include U.S. imperialism and Korean American positionalities. I discuss two contemporary realist novels, Yang Seok-il’s 1998 Japanese-language novel Blood and Bones (Chi to hone) and Min Jin Lee's 2017 English-language novel Pachinko, both of which offer striking portrayals of everyday Zainichi life from the colonial period to the 1980's. Comparing these two works reveals how their differentiated contexts – one being a working-class Zainichi Korean work, the other a Korean American one – illustrate divergent yet interconnected possibilities for how diasporic Koreans may narrativize Japanese-U.S. trans-imperialism and Zainichi experience in the post-Cold War era. Rather than claiming that Yang's authorial identity as a Zainichi Korean authenticates his work where Lee's does not, I consider how both works approach Zainichi experience and political struggle as relevant for the American context as well.