Wounds of war, and other kindsYi Chongjun’s story “The Wounded” is about war. War between nations, yes, and also between individuals. But more important is the author’s treatment of the battles within a man’s own soul. Using a layered narrative style, Yi weaves a tale of the Korean War, a personal battle between brothers and each brother’s struggle with the wounds that life has left on his heart.
The narrator, an artist, is working on a painting. But he is stuck. He has drawn a rough outline of a face, but the details are fuzzy in his mind. Meanwhile, his older brother, a surgeon, has quit his practice and started writing a novel based on his days as a straggler in the Korean War. The story has come to its climax, but the writer cannot find the words to finish it.
The brothers clash as both struggle with their artistic stumbling blocks, which the narrator believes are connected. He feels that he cannot finish his painting until he knows how his brother’s story ends.
Yi’s narrative flows between excerpts from the elder brother’s novel-in-progress, the present-day story and the narrator’s memories of love lost. The pace quickens as the tension between the brothers comes to a head, building to a somewhat surprising realization in the final paragraphs.
The second tale in this slim volume is more subtle than the title piece. “An Assailant’s Face” is the story of Kim Sa-il, a university professor whose brother-in-law disappeared as the communists closed in on Seoul in the opening weeks of the Korean War. While not as engrossing as “The Wounded,” it is a touching story of quiet suffering, guilt, regret and love.
Amid the ideologically charged atmosphere of the 1980s, the division within South Korean society has extended to the Kim household. The professor and his daughter, a student activist, rarely speak. Though both desire unification with the North, they differ on how that can be achieved. The daughter feels that North and South must meet as victims of the foreign powers that forced them apart. But the professor knows from the events that surrounded his brother-in-law’s disappearance that the line between victim and victimizer is not that clear. Though written two decades ago, the issues in this story are still relevant to Korea today.
By Yi Chongjun
Price: 5,000 won
by Dylan Alford