By Bora Chung
Where does human suffering come from? Can we ever be completely free from it? Is a life without suffering a path to salvation?
These thought-provoking questions lie at the heart of Bora Chung's latest full-length novel, “On Suffering.” Chung delves into the abstract theme of pain within the intriguing framework of science fiction.
The novel may be a turning point in Chung's literary career as it is the first thriller by the author who had devoted herself to the horror and fantasy genre.
The story unfolds in a world where a “perfect” painkiller has been invented. But the pharmaceutical company, responsible for this groundbreaking development, becomes the target of a devastating bomb attack. Behind this act of terror is a mysterious religious group which preaches that suffering is the sole path to salvation. Fast forward 12 years, the leaders of this religious sect are found dead. Police reopen a cold case, calling in the suspects originally held in for the bomb attack.
Chung said she got the inspiration for the story while participating in a sci-fi literary event in San Jose, US, in 2018, during which she had a discussion about pain and painkillers.
Her interest in documentaries and investigative programs, especially those on cults, adds depth to the story.
The author’s distinctive narrative style, blurring the lines between a mysterious, at times horrifying, world and our own reality remains a central feature. The characters grapple with a range of issues, such as child abuse, domestic violence, religious brainwashing, and same-sex marriage.
Meanwhile, Chung’s Booker Prize-shortlisted “Cursed Bunny” (translated by Anton Hur) is a finalist for the US National Book Award. The winner will be announced Nov. 15.