Escaping The Snare
By: June Kim
wrote a novel. It's kind of hard for me to believe, especially since it’s in English, which is not my first language. Sometimes I wonder how it happened.
The story begins late in 2002 when I moved to the United States with my husband. I was already pushing 30 and was desperate to find a new career in a new country. I was an English teacher back in South Korea, but I knew I couldn’t do that here.
I tried my hand at several things in those first years. I went back to school. I studied to be a radiology technician while I worked in a clothing store.
Then, while still working and taking classes, I found out that I was pregnant with my first child. I was confused. It wasn’t something we planned. To be honest, I felt a tinge of despair. I was going to be stuck at home nursing a child. Memories of my young self working energetically back in my home country flashed before my eyes like an old movie.
Nothing felt real anymore.
While I was at home nursing a baby and struggling with postpartum depression, suddenly a new avenue opened in my mind. I have always loved to read. I used to love to write. Throughout my school years, I had won many writing competitions. People told me that I had a talent for writing. Stories seemed to form in my mind on their own in my daydreams. I had often dreamed of being a successful writer. In fact, on my first date with my husband-to-be, I told him that I wanted to be novelist.
However, time passed and life got in the way. I hadn't taken these thoughts seriously, nor had I put any effort into writing or getting published. Keeping a diary and writing letters to my friends were the most writing I had done since school. I had too many other things to fill my time with rather than chasing a writer's dream.
But now that I was a stay-at-home mom, I came to the realization that this could be the perfect opportunity to write and to revive those old dreams. This was my chance to put my daydreams on paper. I knew in my heart that I could write great stories.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that I had overestimated myself. Writing just didn’t want to go well for me. Just like an old truck that no one had driven for more than a decade, my writing was stuck firmly in the dirt.
What to do now?
I started to write sentences, some meaningful, some meaningless. I lined up all my thoughts and they began to form into little essays. I pulled people and stories from my memories and reformed them, reshaped them. I wrote stories about people I had known or met downtown from time to time—a homeless man, an English teacher I once knew, an old man who sat on the same bench every morning reminiscing about his wife who had passed away. I started with essays, and then eventually I was able to write several short stories. I was pleased. I felt like I was working again, doing something meaningful. Most of all, I felt like I was living life again.
I posted my stories on a Korean writing website and a few readers loved them. Checking the number of clicks and reviews was the first thing I did in the mornings. I didn’t make any money since the website did not pay, but I felt happy and confident now that I knew people liked what I wrote. I wrote more and more short stories.
“Why don’t you write a full-length novel?”my husband suggested one day.
What did he just say? A full length novel?
I hadn’t even thought about this myself. Was it even possible?
My husband told me that this was a great time for writers and that e-books were the new thing. He could get my book published on Amazon as an e-book. The only catch was that I had to do it in English.
I began to think this might be a nice challenge for myself. I wanted to be a novelist after all. My husband, who was working as a newspaper reporter at the time, helped me write an outline for a full-length novel and I came up with a writing schedule. I started writing on April 24, 2013.
I got up early before the kids were up and worked on it. I found whatever time I could during the day and night. I made sure to write at least a little every day even when I didn't feel like it. Sometimes it was tough going, but other times the words just flowed from my fingers.
My book is about a dog butcher and a one-eyed dog that the butcher was unable to slaughter. The man and his dog were lost souls who had found peace through a bond of friendship that had grown between them.
A friendship between a dog and a dog butcher! It sounds somewhat crazy, doesn't it? I set my mind to start and I never agonized over what to write. I knew the story exactly. It had formed fully in my mind.
The story had grown out of an old memory that remained unforgettable. Fifteen years before I was walking through the Moran Animal Market in Sung-nam, South Korea, where every manner of animal is sold for food. As I walked through the market, I saw a dog being pulled out of a metal cage. The butcher roughly dragged the dog by a snare. The dog put all its weight on its bottom and fought back. It knew that the butcher was taking it into the slaughterhouse and what this meant. There was no mercy in the eyes of the butcher. He was just doing his job. The dog cried, but there was no one to help and no one who cared. I turned my head away and walked quickly past, but the memory of that short moment was etched into my mind. It was stuck in my head, or maybe my heart, and it wouldn’t let go of me. That poor, condemned dog followed me around in my mind and cried as I moved on in my life.
I needed to purify that old memory somehow. Ultimately, I decided to save the dog, not in real life, but in the pages of a novel. My only condition was that it had to be saved by the butcher, not by me or anyone else. So I created a butcher with a heart. I rewrote that old memory that had stayed with me for so long and changed the awful fate of that poor dog that had fought for its life so many years ago.Dog butchering. It's not an easy topic.
I know some Koreans might criticize me for revealing what some see as an ugly aspect of our culture. However, I want you to know that I didn’t write this story to expose something or to make a statement. I just wanted to twist a tragic ending and reverse it—to rewrite what happened that day when I walked through the Moran Animal Market.
Early on the morning of August 24, 2013, that dog in my memory finally stopped crying and ran free from the snare. I put the last period on the last sentence of my story and I knew I was free from that old memory.
I am proud of the story I wrote. I put my heart and soul into it. From one moment in time, an ugly old memory of a dog and a butcher grew into a story about how even in sadness and tragedy there is always beauty and hope in this life.BW
When the BW team received a novel from a new Korean writer we were excited but our faces dropped when we discovered the novel was about a dog butcher. Many Asians have found themselves at the end of cruel jokes about “eating dogs” and it would be terrible to support something that reinforced the stereotype. However, we read the book with an open mind and discovered a heartfelt story with wonderful characters. We hope you share in the journey of June Kim and support her work.
Download an excerpt of THE DOG BUTCHER HERE
You can purchase the novel on Amazon
June Kim was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea. She moved to In-cheon in her mid 20s where she worked as an English teacher for six years.
Not long after she married, she and her husband moved to Northern California where she lives with her husband and two children.