Along with such writers as Park Hwa-seong and Gang Gyeong-ae, Baek Sin-ae (1908-1939) is one of the leading female writers of the 1930s. She appeared on the literary scene in 1929 with the pen name Park Gae-hwa when her short story “My Mother” was published in the Chosun Ilbo. Although she published a small volume of works in her lifetime, such as “Bokseon,” “Poverty,” “The Wicked Wealthy,” and “Needy”—20 in all—they cover a wide range of subjects, from the portrayal of the impoverished lives of people all the way to a critique of society that suppresses women’s activism. She was involved in groups like Chosun Women’s Association, as well as Women’s Youth Union, and she even traveled to Siberia in 1928. Her experience from this period is depicted in her tragic story “Caray,” which deals with a Korean who goes back and forth across the borders of Russia. The main character in this story, Suni, looks upon the east with affection and is inclusive of even the immigrant “Coolie,” whom she embraces with compassion. What is particularly striking about Baek’s work is that she approaches the problem of poverty, not from a distance as a national problem, but from the point of view of a member of the lower class; in other words, she comes alongside those who are poor and destitute in solidarity and portrays their suffering and issues.
The dialogue between the protagonist who considers himself a skeptic and a cabaret worker, Eura, who says, “I always think I just want to die,” is the main storyline of this short story. This work effectively describes the desolate inner sentiments, feelings, and skepticism of the protagonist who travels to Harbin and the sorrowful sentimentality of the city. In addition, “Harbin” impressively portrays that the Second World War, which broke out in 1939, greatly influenced the city of Harbin, which was located in Northeast China at the time. This is evident especially in the lines describing the closed French and Dutch Consulates on Kitai Tverskaya, the main street of Harbin where Russian stores and Western style buildings are located. The theme of this work seems to be the sorrow of an intellect under colonization, feeling only fundamentally skeptical and depressed, even while conversing with a beautiful waitress at the exotic Harbin’s hotel, cabaret, and café where Tchaikovsky’s chamber music plays.