Author Playlists

Mirinae Lee’s Playlist for Her Novel “8 Lives of a Century-Old Trickster”

“…here are eight songs that I’ve chosen for the eight different stories of Trickster as a slave, an escape artist, a murderer, a spy, a terrorist, a lover, a mother, and a storyteller.”

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Mirinae Lee’s Book Notes music playlist for her novel 8 Lives of a Century-Old Trickster is a compelling and inventively told debut.

BookPage wrote of the book:

“Beautiful and at times experimental prose flows in and out of first and third person as Lee shifts among perspectives and time periods. Lee drew inspiration from her own great-aunt, one of the oldest women to escape alone from North Korea, and the result is one of the most complex characters I’ve encountered in some time. 8 Lives of a Century-Old Trickster is enticing, profound and deeply moving, a testament both to Lee’s skill and the courage of her ancestor.”

In her own words, here is Mirinae Lee’s Book Notes music playlist for her novel 8 Lives of a Century-Old Trickster:

8 Lives of a Century-Old Trickster is probably one of the strangest novels you’ll ever read. Inspired by a true story of my great-aunt, one of the oldest women to escape alone from North Korea, the novel explores an extraordinary life of a woman who assumes different identities to survive the turbulences of modern Korean history. 8 Lives of a Century-Old Trickster consists of eight distinctive chapters that unfold the tales of the mysterious protagonist Trickster as she shapeshifts from one character to another. And here are eight songs that I’ve chosen for the eight different stories of Trickster as a slave, an escape artist, a murderer, a spy, a terrorist, a lover, a mother, and a storyteller.

방사능 Bangsaneung (Radioactive) by Rhythm Power for the opening chapter: Virgin Ghost on the North Korean Border

My cousin Geegooin is a renowned rapper in South Korea, a member of the genre-bending hip-hop trio Rhythm Power. My favorite song of Rhythm Power is Bangsaneung. Meaning ‘radioactive,’ Bangsaneung was a rap name my cousin chose for himself as an aspiring hip-hop musician, after he had learned in class that radioactive materials can infiltrate anywhere. Virgin Ghost on the North Korean Border is an opening chapter of the novel, in which the readers are introduced to one of the key identities of Trickster, and her ability to disguise and penetrate into forbidden places. The dark, quirky atmosphere of this hip-hop song and the meaning of its title make it a unique companion to the introduction of my idiosyncratic heroine Trickster.      

대취타 Daechwita by Agust D (Suga of BTS) for Bring Down the House

Daechwita refers to Korean march music performed for kings, royals, and important military parades. This unique rap song of Suga is a contemporary take on the traditional music genre, which opens with the sounds of Korean traditional wind instruments and percussions that are both exhilarating and majestic, and then segues into Suga’s accelerating rapping. I see this song as a bizarre but brilliant accompaniment for the finale of the chapter Bring Down the House, in which Trickster commits an act of murder and sabotage to free women who had been held up in a house of horror. In the very last scene, watching the spectacle of destruction she has just caused, she is flooded with eerie euphoria, an immersion in a sense of her own power. This is the exact moment when regal Daechwita should hit.

강강술래 Ganggangsullae by Woo (Feat. Sogumm) for Storyteller

Another Korean hip-hop song. Hip hop is a highly popular music genre in Korea, through which young Koreans express their interpretations of haan. Meaning intense, bottled-up sorrow, haan may represent the sufferings of ordinary Koreans whose collective history has survived brutal colonization, wars, and various forms of dictatorship. In this original song, Woo brings together his melancholy rapping, Sogumm’s ethereal singing voice, and the traditional chanting of Ganggangsullae. Ganggangsullae is Korean folk dancing and singing performed by a group of women under the full moon. The chapter Storyteller is about a group of Korean girls who undergo sex slavery organized by the Japanese military during the Second World War. What helps them go through their days in hell is their nighttime gathering and sharing their memories of home through storytelling. I see Ganggangsullae as a perfect fit for this chapter, a work of art that sublimates the women’s haan into their own celebration of life and resilience.

Far From Any Road by The Handsome Family for Me, Myself, and Mole 

This unlikely choice – a gothic American country song for a Korean period literary piece – isn’t actually unlikely at all if you read the song closely. I came across this oddly beautiful song through the American TV series True Detective. Like Far From Any Road, the chapter Me, Myself, and Mole consists of two alternating voices of a man and a woman who are sharing dark, intimate tales filled with vivid imagery of death and regeneration. And just like Yongmal and Youngmin in the story, the singers of The Handsome Family, Rennie and Brett Sparks, are a married couple.  

작두 Jackdu (Blade) by Deepflow (Feat. Nucksal, Huckleberry P) for When I Stopped Eating Earth

This monumental and enchanting Korean hip-hop song opens with Korean traditional music that signals the entrance of a ghost. Jackdu refers to a big blade used for gut, the traditional ceremony of exorcism, on which a shaman performs a dance accompanied by live music. Through the metaphor of gut, the song compares the rappers to shamans possessed by the spirits of music. The chapter When I Stopped Eating Earth features a haunting scene of gut that the abusive father of young Trickster organizes for his daughter. He believes her habit of eating soil is the work of a spiteful ghost and only through the performance of gut can she be free of geophagy. At the end of the story, however, Trickster performs her own version of exorcism to save her family from what she considers the true source of evil.

Mr. Tambourine Man by Bob Dylan for The Spy Who Writes Yellow

In the chapter The Spy Who Writes Yellow, the old and weary Trickster tells Mr. Park stories of her checkered life, just as the iconic narrator of Mr. Tambourine Man tells Mr. Tambourine Man memories of his past as a wanderer. Like the narrator of the song, aged Trickster unspools the tales of her journey with a kind of aplomb that only people who have survived through one too many rises and falls of history can summon, who’ve watched, time and again, “evening’s empire has returned into sand.” 

안개 Mist by Jung Hoon Hee and Song Chang-sik for Confessions of an Ordinary Marriage

This song is a remake of the original version from the 60s, recorded as a theme song for Park Chan-wook’s 2022 film Decision to Leave. Different from the original sung solely by Jung, this song features both female and male vocals. The two different voices sing stories of a lover gone missing, their sadness toward the mystery of love, walking slowly through the mist. The chapter Confessions of an Ordinary Marriage is about a bizarre love story of Trickster’s daughter and her husband, told in alternating perspectives of the married couple. It begins with the disappearance of the enigmatic wife one morning, which leaves the husband in shock and dismay, trying to rummage through the memories of their pasts for an answer.

La Mamma Morta by Maria Callas for 8 Lives of a Century-Old Trickster

This aria from Andrea Chenier, performed by Maris Callas, is probably the only song on earth that makes me cry every time I listen to it. No aria in the history of opera portrays such a wide range of human emotions in the length of a single song, which spans from resignation to hope, from the deep-set grief of death to the bliss of rebirth. 8 Lives of a Century-Old Trickster is a novel that captures the vicissitude of human experiences, the extremes as well as the nuances of human emotions, through the ever-changing incarnations of one woman. La Mamma Morta, with its intense agony as well as its celebration of life and love, will make a superb companion on the very last journey of Trickster and the novel’s grand finale.      

Mirinae Lee was born and raised in Seoul. Her short fiction has appeared in the Antioch Review, Meridian, Black Warrior Review, Pleiades, Shenandoah, and the Massachusetts Review.

“8 Lives of a Century-Old Trickster” is her first novel. She lives in Hong Kong with her husband and children.

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