[FOUNTAIN]After death, togetherness“Comrades, that is the Moonrise Hill. Finally, we have reached Mount Jiri.” Lee Byung-ju’s novel Mount Jiri brings back the painful history surrounding the Korean War. Novels such as The Taebaek Mountains and Nambugun were influenced by Mount Jiri by Lee. Partly due to his crooked life and partly due to the fame he gained as an author, Lee’s works never received the appropriate evaluation.
Born as a son of a millionaire in Hadong, South Gyeongsang Province, Lee joined the drama alliance under the communist regime during the war. That eventually disrupted the first act of his life because it was rebellious from the point of view of the Republic of Korea. He even served in prison for more than two years for writing a column encouraging unification.
The second act of his life opened when he published a novel at the age of 44. As a popular writer, he defended the Chun Doo-hwan regime during the fifth republic.
Lee Byung-ju became rich and famous. He was the last to see the poet Kim Su-young. The two were the same age and studied together in Japan. On June 16, 1968, the poor Kim Su-young dropped by the publishing company to ask for an advance payment and got together with Lee. They drank together. But Kim rejected Lee’s offer to give a drive home. Was it because the two disagreed philosophically? A bus hit the staggering Kim and killed him.
Lee Byung-ju called himself a professional writer and wrote enthusiastically. “I write because I bear a grudge. I should write as much as possible and about anything.” He wrote 200,000 words a month and left works of more than 20,000,000 words behind.
Half of his novels are historical sagas. “When the sun sets, it becomes history and when moonlight fades, it becomes a myth.” He wrote about the stories of the individuals abused by history. Sometimes he wrote like a historian more than a novelist.
The last days of Lee Byung-ju were not spectacular. The leftists called him a traitor and the rightists abandoned him for his past. Finally Lee stepped into the sun during the 14 years since his death. People from leftists Rhee Yueng-hui and Yim Hun-young to rightists Lee Mun-yeol came together at his commemoration gathering. In his hometown, an uproarious literature festival took place. What good would ideologies do during memorial services for the wandering lonely spirit? Yet it is delightful and good to see a picture with the leftists and the rightists gathered together. Is it a symptom showing our society is recovering some composure?
by Lee Chul-ho
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.