By Publisher Lee Kyung-sik
In this issue, we introduce a very special person, a noted Korean lady novelist named Han Malsook. Her early work, a short novel entitled A Cliff in Myth, is published in a Special Report section in this issue. (Visit here : http://www.koreapost.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=21778)
The story depicts the dire days of the Republic of Korea (south) in the early 1960s when the per-GNI of the ROK was around US$80 while that of North Korea was over US$150, double that of the ROK in the south. Other reports indicate that the GNI of North Korea as nearly three times that of the South in those days.
The Korean peninsula was liberated from the colonial rule of Japan on Aug. 15, 1945 following the end of the World War II when Japan surrendered to the United States and other members of the Allied Forces against Japan.
However, the Korean peninsula was divided into the north (now the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) and the south (the Republic of Korea).
North Korea invaded the Republic of Korea in the south on June 25, 1950, which ended in 1953 with an armistice agreement.
Worst destruction, damages and devastation came to both sides of the Korean peninsula from the war, and life was very, very difficult in the South as well as in the North.
Novelist Han’s A Cliff in Myth was published in the Korean language in June 1956 in Hyundae Munhak (Contemporary Literature) according to literary critic Kim Woo-jeong in an article entitled Munhak Gamsang (Appreciation of Literature) published on Dec. 23, 2010.
Her story, A Cliff in Myth, marked her debut in the literary world of Korea. Her work became a target of discussion among the existentialist literary figures in Korea around the end of the 1950s.
Han covered a typical young college co-ed who wandered her thoughts in the post-war period society of Korea resisting love and ethics while wandering and catering only to the meaning and interests of the moment.
A Cliff in Myth thus reveals the state of material and mental devastation suffered by some of the young generation in Korea at the time, who wandered in a state of material and spiritual devastation.
The heroine refuses to adhere to the traditional sense of ethics in Korea. Rather, she tries to justify herself with an assertion that her liberal mind was a means of maintaining her livelihood at the time—as in the case of many others among the post-war generation in Korea at the time.
Novelist Han appears to introduce the sense of value shared among some young people in Korea in that post-war period in Korea.
Chin-yŏg (the heroine) is a poor woman student majoring in fine arts at a college. She is a new-generation woman who leads a very liberal life. She totally negates the sense of ethics inherited in Korean society until the beginning of the Korean War.
There are many other stories and novels written by Novelist Han. Among them is The Long Rain (Flood in another version) which was published by The Korea Times, a leading English-language daily in Seoul on March 20, 1973 in an English language translation made by the then Columnist Yi Kyung-sik (Lee Kyung-sik) of The Korea Herald, who is now the publisher-chairman of The Korea Post media, publisher of 3 English and 2 Korean-language news media since 1985).
The Long Rain is one of the important works of Novelist Han in her early days—the other being the one entitled A Cliff in Myth.
Novelist Han, according to Wikipedia, was born on Dec. 27, 1931, in Seoul. She graduated from Seoul National University with a Linguistics degree and worked in an advisory capacity in the Department of Public Reports. She was also a lecturer at Seoul National University's School of Music.
Novelist Han is married to Gayageum musician Hwang Byungki (now deceased) and their eldest son is mathematician Hwang Jun-Muk.
Novelist Han is well-known for works including Certain Death, An Old Woman and a Cat, The Rainy Season, Black Rose and A White Distance, and Traces. The last work, which depicts the triumph of sympathy and trust over mammonism, was one for which Han was awarded the 1963 Contemporary Literature Prize. And A Promise with God won her the 1968 Literary Composition Prize. Her novels also include The Age of Exploration (Mosaek Sidae, 1980).
In fact, Novelist has a much longer list of noted literary works, among which, stands out a medium-length work entitled, Hymn of the Spirit. Here is a chronological list of her works:
1964: Under This Sky
1968: A Promise with God
1974: A Lost Muffler
1981: Hymn of the Spirit (which was translated into English and many other languages and published in countries, including in countries such as France, Sweden, Italy, Japan, China, Poland, the Czech Republic).
2008: Leaving Dulles Airport
2016: The Season in Starlight
Novelist Han was awarded the Contemporary Literature Prize (1963) and Literary Composition Prize (1968).
She has won many favorable comments on her works by various individuals and organizations.
A typical example, presented by Korea Literature Now on July 23, 2017, appears to be a good example. It introduces Novelist Han as follows:
With vivid imagery, inventive writing style and keen perception, Han Malsook captures the multicast interiority of alienated human beings, in particular, the psychology of contemporary women in the postwar setting.
Her major work, A Precipice of Myth (Sinhwa-eui Danae, 1960) utilizes existentialist perspective to probe the damaged psychology of a woman whose denial of conventional ethics and the very idea of future allows her to lead a temporal existence defined solely by pursuit of pleasure and comfort.
A story that embodies the postwar atmosphere of self-abandonment and nihilistic approach to life, it won the author instant recognition and became the main subject of existentialist discussion in the latter half of 1950’s.
Novelist Han’s work, Sinhwa-eui Danae (The Cliff of Myth) published in 1957 was turned into a movie in 1959 and won the ‘Modern Literature’s Outstanding New Writer of the Year Award 1964. Also, her short story, Flood, was included in The Language of Love (New York: Bantam Books) in an outstanding anthology of fiction from around the world 1964.
In 1968, Han was awarded one of Korea’s most distinguished literary prizes, the Annual Best Literature Award given by Korea’s leading daily, Hnkook Ilbo.
Also, a short story, Melancholy Journey was turned into a movie in 1979.
Novelist has published 7 collections of short fictions, 3 novels, and 2 collections of essays.
Madam Han was presented with the Korean government’s Bogwan Cultural Award in 1999, and in 2009, she was elected a member of the Korean National Academy of Arts.
Most recently in 2017, the Literature Translation Institute of Korea published Chocolate Friend and other stories, a free-to-read e-book of her short stories in English available at Google Play Books, Overdrive, and the LTI Korea Library website.
Flood (also translated The Long Rain) and other short stories were rendered into several foreign languages in addition to English.
Novelist Han’s most representative work is rated by some to be Areumdaun Yeongga, which was first published in 1981 and then in English under the title Hymn of the Spirit in 1983 in Korea.
Since its publication under the title, Hymn of the Spirit, the translator has changed the English title to Across the Borders. The novel was published in Polish in 1993, French (UNESCO edition) in 1995, in Chinese 1996, in the Czech language in 1997, in Japanese 2004, in German 2005, in Italian 2001, and in Swedish in 2011.