An anthology of 26 stories--a compilation from nearly 50 years (1936-83) in the career of the Korean writer (The Book of Masks, p. 940): the best of the pieces are impressionistic sketches of isolation and poignant, moody pieces that dramatize the effects of war and dislocation on character. In the evocative title story, a man returns to the town of his youth and remembers a bellringer who is now dead--its sad tone is qualified by a lyrical epiphany. ""Cloudburst"" is a sensitive sketch in which a boy's first girl dies unexpectedly. ""Widows"" tells of Mrs. Pak, who takes in a traveler who turns out to be her illegitimate son, taken at birth. She decides against revealing this revelation to her son. In many of the stories, such a terrible isolation is forced upon characters by nature or circumstance. In ""The Diving Girl,"" a delicate fable, a boy displaced to a remote island by the war is sexually awakened by the girl of the title, but she's too scarred psychologically for a lasting relationship. In ""Clowns,"" refugees (following the 1950 North Korean invasion of Seoul) finally survive harsh conditions by forming a family circus of sorts. Several tales deal with the war or conditions surrounding it: ""Time for You and Me Alone"" is a powerful account of a private who carries a wounded captain a long distance, only to have the captain die on the verge of safety; ""Drizzle"" is a somber story of a policeman whose family has been killed by Communist guerrillas; ""Cranes"" is a post-Korean War confrontation between a returning veteran and a noncombatant; and ""Masks,"" brief and experimental, follows a young soldier who, after several reincarnations, enters the one-armed body of the man who bayoneted him and goes looking for work, unaware that an arm is missing. A mostly somber collection that chronicles lives devastated by an isolation often created by policial conflict and its aftereffects.