Sunday, December 12, 2010
Sojourning in the Heart: Yi Sang’s and Ours
A good friend of mine I met in Korea, and a well known artist here as well, recently recommended the book reviewed below. It turned out that the book is well known and taught throughout middle school and at the university level as well. I read it without knowing what was coming and nothing about the author making the visit into its story all the more dazzling. On this personal note, I will not be giving away any of the sordid details of this work of art. Before we set our feet upon the plain and begin our journey, I must say that this book reads like a sojourn in the self. It carried me to places within, I hadn’t visited in epics gone by in my heart. If you care the slightest about literature, you must spend time in these pages.
Yi Sang’s The Wings, accompanied by the equally, if not more psychological Deathly Child, and Encounters and Departures, dances with realism, surrealism, and early twentieth century avant-garde while moving fluidly - though unexpectedly - between essay, dialogues within narrators' thoughts, poetry, and even song, in one seamless flow. Published by Jimoondang Publishing Company in 2001 and translated by Ahn Jung-hyo and James B. Lee from the original 1936 Korea Journal publication, this book has a history of thorough examination here in Korea. The book serves as seminal text in Korean literature for obvious reasons. The first two paragraphs alone made me put the book down to think about what the horizon had in store upon ascent. The allegories and metaphors pushed me forward on the trek and twists and turns came unexpectedly at each pass. While the term ‘twist’ gets thrown around too often, I haven’t felt this taken aback since the cliché of ‘becoming unplugged’ came into regrettable vogue after that unnameable movie was released some years back. But perhaps these short novels, three, topped even that cliché too.
Given the release of numerous translated Korean works of famous literature by the Jimoondang Publishing Company, it is noteworthy that this book was published first in the series. Here, on this site, I’ve taken the privilege of discussing several of the books in this series, but I must say if you read only one of them, this is the one. To further praise these tales I add that I will actively seek out other works by the author in the immediate future.
Yi Sang, in allusion, offers these stories as confessions of his own history. Though no doubt shaded by symbolism, they tell the history of a man who lived the sort of life I think most people fear they may live, perhaps secretly. For this reason the narrative all the more moves its readers' hearts. The characters, and the author lived, loved, and suffered as real humans do. He leaves no trace of his true character and his characters alone. He offers himself up in the form of his protagonist as an inveterate liar, with passages and tails within tails to back up the confessions of these and other personal defects.
The characters read like friends we all have and they have their basis in his own. The allegories and allusions, though thick, barely cover our real lives, the pains of poisonous relationships, and the truths we hide from ourselves and others. Shocking is the discovery of this book only while living here in Korea. I think translations of these tales should/could have easily found there way into the classrooms of my own educational history. These remarkable journeys into this text made me burst out laughing in cafés in downtown Gwangju. And in the same sittings I all but wailed as well. What a strange sight I must have been while crossing these stories’ pages. What strange sights were seen in them too.