[FOUNTAIN]A Novel ApproachI recently read a novel, "For the Emperor," by Lee Moon-youl, for the second time. It had been 20 years since I read the novel, but I could feel the same humor, bitter sarcasm and pathos embedded within the rich contents. I owe my second reading entirely to Choi Jae-seung, who is a Millennium Democratic Party lawmaker and chairman of the Culture and Tourism Committee of the National Assembly.
Mr. Choi spoke Monday at a hearing of the Korea Culture and Arts Foundation. "In the collection of literature on unification, the Korea Culture and Arts Foundation plans to publish the works of a writer who is not in conformity with the goals of the collection," Mr. Choi said. The writer is Lee Moon-youl, and the novels mentioned were "For the Emperor" and "A Son of Man." The assemblyman said that the writer was one who resists all reforms and liberalization and opposes peaceful unification, adding that Mr. Lee's works should not be in the unification literature collection.
The novel "For the Emperor" is a fictional biography of a "rather elegantly disturbed man," who believes he is the emperor designated in a book of prophecy that was published in the second half of the Choson dynasty. Born in 1895, the character has engaged in strange acts all his life with his "liegemen" and has suffered much. He fights the Japanese army using simple antique guns made during the Choson dynasty and a few bows and arrows. He makes an airplane out of black oak wrapped with cloth and badly injures himself trying to get it off the ground. He scorns both the communists and the South Korean government, for all their differences, as "Communist rascals" and "Southern rascals."
The self-styled emperor dies in 1972. His last words are, "Even a child who has had fun playing needs to return home when the sun goes down." He calls himself "Baekseongjae," the people's emperor, and his imaginary country, "South Choson." His burial place is, "Deokreung," or royal virtuous tomb. The story unfolds through a magazine writer's search for a story and his discovery of the tomb. Mr. Lee said his intention in writing the novel was to laugh at extreme polarization.
"For the Emperor" has been translated into English, Japanese, French and Italian. Critics selected the novel as one of the 20 best works of fiction written since the birth of the Republic of Korea. Even though the lawmaker may have felt that the writer's behavior was disagreeable, it is still astonishing that a chairman of the Culture and Tourism Committee under the National Assembly could make such a nonsensical proposal as to call Mr. Lee's work unworthy of publication.
The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun