An anthology of nine short stories from as many Asian writers has been published in a project proposed by South Korean author Chung Se Rang to explore what she views as the stresses on relationships in today's world.
The collection, whose title loosely translates as "Disconnection," was released in both South Korea and Japan in early December, with the foreign-language stories translated.
Chung, a science fiction and fantasy author, wrote the South Korean story, while the Japanese work was contributed by Sayaka Murata, author of the international bestseller "Convenience Store Woman."
"In today's fast-changing society, the conflicts arising in human relationships have only gotten worse," Chung, 38, said in explaining the choice of the anthology's title. "It was a theme I wanted to explore."
Chung said the idea for an Asian collaboration grew out of a proposal from Japanese publisher Shogakukan Inc. for a novel to be jointly written by one South Korean and one Japanese author.
Chung, whose 2015 novel about a school nurse with psychic powers was turned into a Netflix series called "The School Nurse Files" in 2020, said she then expanded the idea to young writers from across Asia, thinking it would have greater impact.
The authors from South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore have chosen diverse topics under the theme of disconnection, including change, conflict and death. Chung said she also wanted to show how the coronavirus pandemic has played a big part in the dismantling of relationships.
The other writers of the anthology are Taiwan's Lien Ming Wei, Hong Kong's Hon Lai Chu and Thailand's Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa, China's Hao Jingfang, Singapore's Alfian Sa'at, Tibet's LhachamGyal and Vietnam's Nguyen Ngoc Tu.
Publication of the collection in the other countries is underway.
Chung, whose story addressed the breakdown of trust among close friends, said that while all the writers were initially "disconnected" from each other, the project provided a thread to link them, and readers, together at a time when people are feeling more isolated.
"It is interesting how the writers gained friendships and felt more connected though we all wrote about being disconnected," Chung said.
Although she is unhappy about the lack of opportunities to come into contact with Asian novelists of her generation, Chung said she "hopes that exchanges (in the literary world) will deepen so that we can meet in real life in the future."
Chung is not new to collaborative projects involving her country and Japan, and thinks they can be a learning experience for both peoples.
"South Koreans and Japanese are neighbors who are similar in some ways but also very different in others, and by using each other as a mirror, I think the people of both countries can get to understand themselves in more detail," she said.
Chung herself has been inspired by Japanese literature. She is a huge fan of Murata, who won Japan's coveted Akutagawa Prize for "Convenience Store Woman" in 2016 and is well known to South Korean readers.
Before working with Murata, Chung also had conversations with other Japanese writers such as Ryo Asai and Kikuko Tsumura that she said energized her and gave her new perspectives.
Starting with Han Kang's Booker Prize-winning novel "The Vegetarian," which was published in Japan in 2011, South Korean literature has been gaining popularity among Japanese readers.
Cho Nam Joo's "Kim Ji Young, born 1982" became a hit in Japan after selling more than 200,000 copies since 2018.
Six works of Chung's have been published in Japanese, including "The School Nurse Files" and "From Sisun." She also has a strong following in Japan.
Chung hopes to see friendly conversations between the two countries eventually spread to other fields outside of literature, including politics.
Ties between Seoul and Tokyo, complicated by Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula (1910-1945), have hit a fresh low since South Korea's top court in 2018 ordered victims to receive compensation for being forced to work for Japanese companies during World War II.
Since South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol took office, ties have shown some improvement, with the countries agreeing that pending history issues should be settled soon.
"Literature is the act of looking at others from a multilayered perspective. If we can understand each other more deeply, I think that a better flow (in bilateral relations) will begin," Chung said.