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Crystal Salt
  • Writer's pictureCristina Deutsch

Today we speak about: Bora Chung – Cursed Bunny

Updated: May 9, 2023


I have to admit that I was first drawn to Cursed Bunny by the cover. I knew absolutely nothing about Bora Chung, a Korean (intending with this South Korean...) author with three novels and three volumes of short stories already published; That loony, neon rabbit reminds me of something related to Squid Game (if you haven't seen the series – although I suspect everyone has – find it on Netflix, it's worth the effort. Later edit: now I see some connections with Black Mirror; also, series, also on Netflix – highly recommended! Looks like I wasn't wrong, the volume of short stories is somewhat in that area – obviously not so much thematically, but rather atmospherically. The cover perfectly captures the surreal and slightly unsettling tone of the book, a whimsical fairy tale illustration "twisted" with a horror movie poster. It's definitely a book of stories that manage to strike terror into your soul (just kidding, I don't scare so easily...). Let's just say that will make you question everything you thought you knew about bunnies. Please, not just about bunnies, but about people as well – a blend of magical realism and horror at its finest, a melange that, incidentally, brought the author and the PEN award (and it will bring her others, trust me). And, so as not to rattle here like a machine gun (given that the volume has not yet been translated in Romania, at least as far as I know, but you can find it in Anton Hur's translation (it is also available on the Cărturești website), being printed in the Honford Star in 2021, I'll leave you with a sample of the first story, The Head: "One day, the woman had used the toilet like always, flushed the bowl, and was washing her hands. The head appeared in the toilet behind her, as it normally did.


The woman stared at it for a while through the mirror. The head stared back. The mashed-up face underneath the irregular clumps of hair would’ve normally been yellow and gray, but now it was oddly red.


The woman remembered she was having her period.


“Your color looks different,” she said to the head. “Does it have anything to do


with the state of my own body?”


The head replied, “Mother, the state of your body has a direct effect on my appearance. This is because my entire existence depends on you.”


The woman took off her underwear and sanitary pad. She stuck the pad smeared with her menstrual blood on the head’s face and shoved it down the toilet. She flushed.". (Bora Chung, Cursed Bunny. Honford Star, 2021, translated by Anton Hur, p. 6).


But this is not all. The most interesting part is that this Head (which I put down with a capital letter, although in the book it is not individualized, it is just head) is an extremely alive character. And I think that's actually the strength of the volume – although I see the emphasis being more on thematic implications (like capitalism, patriarchy, and the like). From the titular cursed bunny (the story that gives the title of the volume I think is also the best of all, although it – at least for me – competes with The Snare, where the protagonist is a fox) to the creatures from another world and human protagonists, each character is imbued with a unique voice and perspective that are both relatable and fascinating. You suddenly find yourself. as a reader. in a nightmare world, no, a magical world where nightmares are absolutely normal.


"The child’s condition only grew worse after their visit to the university hospital. The child could no longer recognize his parents’ faces, repeatedly soiled his trousers, could not walk properly, and kept muttering to himself but no longer formed meaningful words. He spent most of his day lying in bed and staring up at the ceiling with unfocused eyes, gurgling now and then, but the one thing he consistently did was obsess over the bunny lamp. The bunny lamp was moved from his desk to his nightstand, and the child, while mumbling at the ceiling, turned to look at the lamp from time to time, which seemed to reassure him, and


he became anxious and screamed whenever anyone else tried to touch it.


While he slept, the child would sometimes wriggle his nose, nibble, or flick his ears like a bunny, but none of the adults around him noticed. In his dreams, the child sat under a tree with a white rabbit with black-tipped ears and tail, pleasantly eating away at his own brain. The more he nibbled away at it, the narrower the child’s world became until he was unable to leave the little bit of land he shared under the tree with the bunny. By then, he could not comprehend anything except for his delight in being with his friend." (Cursed Bunny, p.41). Obviously, Cursed Bunny is not what we might define as "a normal book".


That's because, despite the cruelty shown, each story manages to involve the reader, in almost direct participation, in a different adventure that takes you to strange (but not necessarily wonderful) worlds where anything is possible. Before learning that the bunny in question was in fact a bunny lamp (but no less a "character" for that reason) I immediately made the connection to the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. And, at least (but not exclusively) at the level of emotions that this volume causes you once read, they really match: you have here, like in Lewis Carroll, a mixture of joy, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, curiosity, admiration. At least in my view, it's a book that sticks in your head long after you've finished reading it (which happens quickly, it's under 200 pages), just like Alice does. Another connection that immediately came to my mind was with Toni Morrison's Beloved (translated in Romanian since 2020 if I'm not mistaken) with the title Preaiubita and published by Arthur - ART, "English translation and notes by Virgil Stanciu). Arguably, the three could be linked primarily through the manner in which fantasy is used, the ability to induce horror, and, above all, the symbolism manipulated with the intention of exploring various aspects of the human experience.


But, going just a little deeper (not much...), we immediately notice that all three volumes (let's not forget that we are dealing with two novels and a volume of short stories!) have a female protagonist at the center, each one actively involved in a journey into a fantasy world that tests her perception of reality. In Cursed Bunny, each story follows a different woman who experiences a supernatural phenomenon that disrupts her normal life. For example, in the story that gives the volume its title, a woman inherits a cursed fetish that brings misfortune to anyone who touches it (and, as you saw above, children are not spared either). In Alice in Wonderland, Alice falls down a rabbit hole and enters a strange and whimsical world where she meets talking animals, changes size and participates in absurd games. In Beloved, Sethe is haunted by the ghost of her dead daughter, who returns as a young woman named Beloved: “Sethe reached up for the baby without letting the dead one go. Baby Suggs shook her head. “One at a time,” she said and traded the living for the dead, which she carried into the keeping room. When she came back, Sethe was aiming a bloody nipple into the baby’s mouth. Baby Suggs slammed her fist on the table and shouted, “Clean up! Clean yourself up!” They fought then. Like rivals over the heart of the loved, they fought. Each struggling for the nursing child. Baby Suggs lost when she slipped in a red puddle and fell. So Denver took her mother’s milk right along with the blood of her sister.” (Toni Morrison, Beloved. A Plume Book, Penguin Putnam Inc., New York, U.S.A., 1998, p. 153). Milk, blood, and other bodily fluids abound in Cursed Bunny as well. It is well known that Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland also includes a number of scenes involving the act of eating or drinking. It is enough to think of the Mad Hatter and his Tea Party, where Alice joins a group of eccentric characters to enjoy tea. All in an atmosphere of ordered chaos, where logic exists (only inverted), making everything slide into a horror accentuated by the "cuteness of the moment". Another memorable scene involving "nutrients" is when Alice grows and shrinks after eating a cookie labeled "Eat Me" and drinking a potion labeled "Drink Me." These dimensional shifts lead to a series of bizarre and humorous (noir) situations as Alice struggles to navigate a world that seems to be constantly shifting and changing around her. In general, the act of eating or drinking is used by Lewis Carroll as a way to highlight the absurdity and unpredictability of the world in which Alice finds herself.


Another similarity would be that all three writings (obviously!) use elements of horror to create a sense of fear, suspense, and terror for the characters and readers. In Cursed Bunny, many of the stories involve violence, death, mutilation, and torture (pretty bland and normal—generally speaking—choices for Asian writers), presenting them as consequences of the characters' actions or desires. In Snare, the story I mentioned above (and which also has a visible folktale vein) a man who catches and tortures a fox with golden blood ends up being eaten, in his turn, literally. And not just him, but his whole family. In Alice in Wonderland, Alice faces various threats and dangers from the inhabitants of Wonderland, such as being beheaded by the Red Heart Queen. Let's not forget the Jabberwock with the "biting jaws" and "grabbing claws" (which I think appears in Through the Looking Glass, not in Alice). In Beloved, on the other hand, Sethe relives the trauma of her past as an enslaved person who was whipped, raped and separated from her children. But food also plays an important role here. Not so much the "food" itself, obviously, but the act of feeding. Baby Suggs, for example, preaches a message of self-love (in the religious sense) and encourages its followers to enjoy their bodies, including the food they eat. Her sermons often involve images of abundance, such as fields of wheat, a counterpoint to the dehumanization and degradation the characters experienced as slaves. An important symbol is (The Chokecherry Tree – its fruit is bitter and poisonous, an image associated with death and trauma throughout the novel. Not to mention Beloved's cannibalistic tendencies…


A third point of connection would be that all of them use symbolism to convey deeper meanings and messages about their themes and issues. In Cursed Bunny, many of the stories involve animals or objects as symbols of oppression, resistance, or transformation. For example, in Snare, the fox represents both freedom and exploitation; his liquid gold blood symbolizes both wealth and pain. In Alice in Wonderland, many of the characters and events are allegories for various aspects of Victorian society, related to politics, education, logic, mathematics, religion, a.s.o. For example, the Mad Hatter's tea refers to the absurdity and futility of social convention and etiquette; the grin of the Cheshire Cat (my favorite character, of course...) marks the ambiguity of identity; the game of cricket represents the arbitrary and tyrannical nature of power and authority. And so on. In Beloved, by contrast, many of the characters and events are symbols of slavery, memory, trauma, healing, and love. As a whole, Beloved herself represents both the horror and the legacy of slavery; her name represents both Sethe's guilt and her defiance; her appetite represents both her need for affection and her destructiveness; her disappearance represents both Sethe's release and loss.


And so on. I could go on (no, wait, this is only the beginning...). Initially, I had thought to share with you only a glimpse of the impact that Bora Chung's book had on me (which, yes, should be translated into Romanian as soon as possible...). I ended up writing about Beloved and about Alice... Two other books that, if you haven't read (although I suspect that at least Alice is well-known...) I recommend that you do. And Alice - certainly read by most in childhood - would be worth rereading: you will see the novel with different eyes now, from an adult's perspective.


Since it's clear that I can't help myself, I'll add something else: a comparison between the three from a geocritical perspective would work very well (I have an obsession at the moment, sorry...). In my opinion, it lends itself perfectly: for example, a discussion on the heterotopic space (one can see how, in Cursed Bunny, each story creates a heterotopic space that challenges or subverts the expectations and conventions of realistic space; in Alice in Wonderland, Wonderland is a heterotopic space that contrasts with Alice's house in Victorian England; finally, in Beloved, 124 Bluestone Road we have another kind of space that contrasts with the rest of Cincinnati). But I'll stop here (I tend to become boring, I know...). If there is any interest, I am willing to develop the subject in the future.


P.S. If you want to use any of my text, please cite me (that's all). Also, if you have something to say or just feel the need to argue/ debate with me (in a friendly way, of course), I welcome you in the comments.

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