A wind blew, generations fought, a poet diedIt was a quiet year for the publishing industry. No major incidents took place, no shouting between North and South Korean writers on the peak of Mount Baekdu like last year. Nevertheless there were ups and downs. Here are sone key words that sum up Korea’s literary scene in 2006.
The wind of Gong Ji-young
Gong’s name stood out in an industry dominated by translated novels. Her book “Our Happy Time,” a tale of love between a vulnerable art professor and a man facing the death penalty, which was also made into a film, has now sold over 750,000 copies since its release in April 2005. The critics dubbed the phenomenon “the wind of Gong Ji-young.” When the film was released in November the book remained on top of the bestseller’s list for eight weeks. It was the first time in four years that a Korean novel had achieved such success, and Gong received an honorary award from Amnesty Korea for leading the campaign to abolish capital punishment.
It was a good year for Gong. Apart from “Our Happy Time,” her collection of essays, “I was All Alone Like a Raindrop,” and “Things that Come After Love,” another novel she published last year, were also best sellers.
Literary scene inspired by politics
The North’s nuclear test stirred a controversy among Korean writers. Jeong Hyeon-jeong, who wrote pure poetry for 40 years, released a poem in October titled “What is it that they want: adding to the nuclear testing,” which criticized the North’s nuclear experiment. South Korea’s literary scene displayed mixed attitudes toward the subject. Earlier this month Yi Mun-yeol released a novel that heavily criticized democratic activists in Korea. Then recently the poet Go Eun claimed that “a poet is entitled to make political comments.”
Controversy over Futurist writing
Major literary magazines produced special features on Futurist writing, a form of literature that uses unfamiliar narrative styles. Many said this writing is set to become the dominant genre in Korea, as a new generation of writers becomes more important.
Young writers won hardly any major literary awards this year and some claimed that the older literary generation is holding back new writers.
Stars fell, but river runs through
Park Young-han, the author of “River Faraway” and “A Short Love Affair,” died in August. In May Park Young-geun died. He was known for his “labor poems.” Park Young-han was an icon of Korean literature in the 70s for his books about the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Park Young-geun, who wrote the famous poem “Pine Tree, Pine Tree, The Blue Pine Tree,” had been a central figure in Korean literature during the ‘80s.
Last year the government used lottery funds to give 5.2 million won to Korean literature. The money was given to promising writers and poets; the rest was spent buying Korean literature to distribute to major libraries, hospitals and military troops across the nation.
by Sohn Min-ho