The Shower (소나기), a short story written by the acclaimed author Hwang Sun Won (황순원, 1915-2000) in 1953, may be the most heart tugging tale ever touched the Korean hearts. It comes down to the most innocent and pristine part of the human heart as it involves a boy and a girl at a tender young age, love which is the most precious of all human emotions, and the irony of fate which most of us, if not personally encountered, at least witness at one time or another in our lives. It is one of the shortest of the short stories, almost like a children’s fairy tale, yet touches our heart so deeply by its poignancy that only those with a heart of steel would not be moved by it.
Here is a plot summary of The Shower in twelve morsel paragraphs, which is roughly a 7 to 1 condensation of the original text.
The story, which is short enough to be read in about 20 minutes, takes place in an unnamed rural village with no named characters except the Yoons. Everything is kept as simple as can be with a minimum of flourishes - the boy and the girl, the creek, the shower, fields, mountain, and other things in nature, and finally the boy’s parents. Yet they all come together in such an ensemble to create an unforgettable, beautiful story that stays with you for a long time. The reason it is so moving is in part because it deals with the most primeval things in life in their simple, unadulterated forms, such as the young age of the main characters, things in nature yet untouched by industrial development, and the old fashioned way of life where people care about their communities and neighbors.
Also, more importantly, it brings back similar long cherished memories in people’s hearts, the precious personal experience at an early age that is forever etched in their souls. And then there is the ironic and tragic workings of fate, where the unexpected downpour of a shower that brings the two children together with such a decisive force is also what brings about the sad conclusion. It is what set the course of the events, and it is also a metaphor for the boy’s and girl’s first taste of love which came and went just like a sudden downpour.
Being on the textbook, the story is practically known by everyone in Korea. It has also been adapted into a film, multiple dramas, and even a song by the rock band Boohwal. It is one of the most loved and cherished stories in Korea.
For myself personally, it is one of the two most unforgettable love stories I’ve ever known, the other one being James Galsworthy’s The Apple Tree. The Apple Tree is also a poignant story like The Shower, and might have had an even greater impact on me because I read it before The Shower at a more impressionable age, even though it was only an adapted cartoon version that came as an addendum to a schoolboy magazine (I thank the magazine publishers who had the good sense to dig up and adapt such a beautiful story for us even though it was a half century old novel published in a faraway country in a different language). In a broad sense, these two great works are telling us essentially the same story, the forever retold tale of love and death that we all experience, of how everyone is on a quest to discover the ultimate other one, to find the meaning in existence, before death eventually catches up with them.