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Q. 책의 제목의 의미가 무엇인가? What does the book’s title mean?

A. In Korean there are two nouns for ‘white’. Hwin and hayan. The Korean title of this book is the single-syllable hwin. If hayan indicates the white as an ordinary colour, in hwin there might be a certain sadness, the colour of fate. The white of this book’s title is a fundamental colour passing from a baby’s swaddling cloths to a shroud, through the white of salt and snow and frost and waves, the wings of a living butterfly and the wings of the same creature, grown transparent in death.

Q. 이 책의 배경이 되는 ‘지구 반대편의 먼 도시’이자 ‘흰 도시’는 어디인가? Where is the ‘white city’, the ‘distant city on the other side of the world’, that forms the background for the book?

A. In the summer of 2013, I met Justyna Najbar, who had translated my book The Vegetarian into Polish, in a cafe in Seoul. She wore a long skirt, had very short hair, a quiet character, and there was something sad about her eyes. After discussing various issues related to translation, she asked 'If you are invited to a writers’ residency next autumn at Warsaw University, where I teach Korean religions in the East Asian department, will you come?' At that time, I was working on the final stage of Human Acts. If the book was published in Korea in the spring of 2014, I wanted to rest a little, and had been vaguely thinking that it would be good to be able to spend some time somewhere other than Korea. I answered ‘yes, please’. I probably would have said yes to whatever place, even the North or South Pole.

Around the time I was preparing various procedures to take a leave of absence from work in order to be in Poland from the end of August 2014 to December, acquaintances asked me 'Why on earth would you go to that sad place?' I was aware of 20th-century European history, but I hadn’t known that after the uprising of September 1944, 95% of Warsaw was destroyed, and then rebuilt. Not long after I arrived in Poland, I was able to see in the streets various messages, photography exhibitions and installations praising the uprising. I went the museum of the Warsaw Uprising, and saw how the city had looked in destruction, filmed by a US military plane just after the war. That city, where all the stone buildings had been smashed, so all that remained were scorched ruins, was a white city. Not a hayan city; a hwin city.

 After that, walking the streets until winter I sometimes saw buildings whose lower and upper walls were different colours, and came to know that boundary as the scar pattern connecting ruin with reconstruction. At that time, I wanted to write about a person whose life played out as this city’s had. I imagined her to be the newborn baby my mother had given birth to before me, and lost; my onni. I imagined that she had not died, but lived still, and so came to this city in my place, as I would not then have been born. Each day I walked for a long time, seeing everything of the city through her body, her eyes, feeling through her flesh the cold of Warsaw – her and my white city – and at night, slowly, step by small step, I wrote this book.

Q. 이 책은 소설인가? 시인가? 또는 산문인가? 이 책이 무엇으로 분류되기를 원하는가? Is this book fiction? Or an essay? How would you like it be classified?

 A. If I have to choose, I think it is fiction. But it could be read as narrative poem in 65 fragments. I hope that it is not a ‘fixed’ book, only a white book.