Telling it all, up to a pointShe was a famous singer in her prime, swept off her feet by an heir to a jaebol. She retired from the stage when they married. She was a dutiful wife, raising three sons and three stepchildren.
She endured her husband’s countless infidelities, and other marital woes. But she refused to divorce him, for the sake of her brood. He became seriously involved with a TV anchorwoman (and former Miss Korea) 27 years his junior, and he wanted out.
After 22 years, she finally signed the papers that ended her marriage. She left the posh and prosperous life for good. Trusted friends swindled her out of her alimony. She opened a small cafe and restaurant, putting the past behind her. But the bitterness and grief lingered on.
She wrote an autobiographical novel about her life-shattering betrayal. It became an instant bestseller, putting her back in the limelight she’d departed when she got married. Now she hopes a new album will return her to the music scene after 30 years.
Sounds like a soap opera plot, or a tabloid story? This is a real-life drama now unfolding in Korea.
At the center of the controversy is Bae In-sun, 55, formerly of the singing duo the Pearl Sisters and the ex-wife of Choi Won-suk, 60, former chairman of the Dong-ah Group. Her “autobiographical novel,” “Singing ‘A Cup of Coffee’ After 30 Years,” has sold like hotcakes, selling around 120,000 copies since it came out in mid-November.
In a matter of two weeks, she has become a household name again. She is on the top 5 list of search items on all the major Korean search engines, and has given numerous interviews for newspapers and magazines and on television.
She has online fan clubs. The media talk about her non-stop, and speculation is rife over the identities of the women, mostly celebrities, with whom her husband supposedly had affairs; in the book, she identifies them only by initials.
In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, Ms. Bae (whose real name is Kim In-Ae) talked about her reasons for writing the book. “After the divorce, I started to come out in public, appearing on television,” she said. “I guess he did not approve of that and took it out on our kids. I thought that was unjust.”
She said she started writing the book to get back at her husband for mistreating her sons. “Everyone knows about [his affairs and reputation], but I felt like a sinner,” she added. “If I didn’t blurt out everything, I don’t think I could have continued living the rest of my life.”
The frenzied speculation over the real names of the characters in her novel has not prompted angry calls from people she depicted. “No one has called objecting to the details. I mean, if someone called me, it would prove that she would be the person I was writing about, wouldn’t it?” she said.
She says she turned a blind eye to her husband’s countless adulteries, which began early in the marriage. “Until the day we divorced, I never nagged my husband about his affairs,” she said. “Even if my heart turned to soot, I tried my best to swallow everything, to be tolerant, mostly because of the kids. On the outside, I was smiling, but I was crying within.”
Now she regrets being so forbearing over the years. “I don’t know why I perservered. At times, I showed signs of a neurasthenic.”
She’s no longer wealthy, but she says she feels more comfortable now. “I’m a human being, so of course I reminisce about the splendid life I led, riding a private jet to go to Europe...
“But nothing in life comes for free. In truth, very rich people walk a very lonely road. In the past six years, I haven’t even gone to the department store. I have enough clothes to last a lifetime. Wearing jeans and a hat is comfortable.”
In her new cafe, she sometimes sings her old hits, because some of her customers refuse to leave until they hear her sing. “If there is at least one fan who wanted to hear me sing, that’s good enough for me to go on stage,” she said. Ms. Bae says she wants to establish a foundation to help the elderly, and name it the Pearl Foundation, after her former singing group.
“From now on, I only want to talk about the future,” she said. “Writing a book was, in a way, to make a truly fresh start.”
Sex, celebrity, money, power and betrayal ― down to the letter
“Singing ‘A Cup of Coffee’ After 30 Years” ― whose title refers to the hit song that made the Pearl Sisters famous ― is billed as an “autobiographical novel.” It chronicles Bae In-sun’s rise to stardom, her romantic courtship by a rich and powerful man, their tumultous marriage and their eventual divorce. Characters are identified by initials ― “C” for her husband, for instance, and “J,” “L,” “E” and “K” (actually, there were two “K’s”) for the women C has affairs with.
The book describes C’s adulterous behavior in lurid detail (“The bedsheets were tainted with... evidence that a woman was here frolicking in the bedroom with my husband in broad daylight,” reads one sentence).
She describes an actress (one of the “K’s”) knocking at the front door of their house, yelling that she was pregnant with C’s child. At one point, C invites the other K, a diva-like singer, into their bedroom for a three-person tryst. At one point, C demands a divorce, telling Ms. Bae that he has fallen in love with E, an ingenue actress.
The story begins with the young Ms. Bae’s hopes of becoming a star, and describes her rise to fame along with her younger sister as the Pearl Sisters, who became hugely successful in the early 1970s.
But it is her husband’s betrayals of her, in such appalling fashion, that have made this book so gripping to its readers, not to mention the guessing game of attaching the initial to the celebrity.
Ms. Bae recounts her tale of meeting a man (a “K” of her own) who made her “feel alive again,” and how, after the divorce, she considered marrying a pastor. But after she was swindled out of her money, she says, she opened a cafe and restaurant and began a new life.
Her husband, now married to Jang Eun-yeong, a TV anchorwoman, has made no comment on the book, and his family members are keeping silent. To the embarassment of the once-mighty businessman, this dirty laundry ― whether it’s really his or not ― is there for all to see.
by Hong Soo-hyun
More in Features
Kakao TV launches this month, takes on Netflix
[TURNING 20] In a sea of hate, change flourishes
Criticism of sex ed books for kids raises more questions than answers
When it comes to sex ed, this Danish author says just talk about it
The traveling grandma who's 'alive and kicking it'