Sunday, October 17, 2010

Rainy Spells in Korea

As fall begins here in Korea and the leaves turn orange and red the rains seem to be subsiding. Fortunately for me, a rain lover, I caught one last pulverizing pour and found myself picking up The Rainy Spell by Yun Heung-gil to match the mood. This translation was done by Suh Ji-moon and published by Jimoondang Publishing Company in 2002 from the original Jangma of 1973. As North and South divisions continue on as key political and even sociological and cultural components of the region I found this read a gem. Although many of the other books I’ve read here also deal with this subject matter, this one deals with the division at its face as well as through the metaphor of rain.

As I sat in a café in Sangmu, I occasionally looked out at the onslaught of rain even as rain poured in the authors description. This being the case I felt especially drawn into Heung-gil’s tale. The narrator is a young boy forbidden from leaving his home, a home racked between two families with sons fighting on either side of the political division in its initial phase. The source of his incarceration came from his having sold information about a visit from his uncle to the local police for chocolate. His uncle was a fighter for the north, who had been living with his communist associates on Geonji Mountain. Consequent to the divulgence of the information, his father had been taken to the local police station and beaten until he had a permanent limp and all joy removed from him. The writer hardly took sympathy with the north in his description of such a beating. Rather, Heung-gil paints the portrait of the two young men fighting for either sides with glowing reverence for the Republic Army's Jun, the pride of his maternal family and the narrator's uncle and the converse for his paternal family's pride of the same age and soldier for the People's Army. His uncle Jun is painted as an articulate and well thought out athlete while his paternal uncle was portrayed as a scatter brained believer, who only came into maturity with winters spent starving in the People’s Army. The story, while somewhat political, only uses this as the cornerstone upon which the foundational elements of this literary structure are built.

The story reckons with the familial pains of the division. With vested interests on both sides of the conflict, the author describes a large family torn apart by the events. The narrator, only a young boy, ably suits the description of such a story, as he describes the in house events without making too many of his own judgments. Instead, he tells of the tears and infighting of his elders, facilitating the mood and confusion of a family sundered both literally and figuratively. This is the story of the pains of families throughout not just this conflict but also of the modern civil wars of the nation state itself and perhaps of nationalism generally. It tells of tears and buttresses them with the deluge of the sky in a tumultuous rain which desolates hearts and even reshapes the novel's landscape.

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