Many Koreans traveling abroad find themselves being asked,
quite politely, by kindly-intentioned people: "Excuse me, but are you Chinese
or Japanese?" When they explain that they are Korean, quite often the questioner
looks confused, and may even venture to ask, "But is that different?" Despite
all that has happened in recent years, Korean identity, the culture and
history of our land, are still unfamiliar to many westerners.
Is Korea different? Our answer, of course, is a resounding
"Yes!" and the main reason for this series of publications is to help people
in the outside world who are interested in literature to discover just
how specific our Korean literary culture is.
Literature is the deepest expression of the inner structure
of history. Although the great works of world literature rise above the
particularities of time and place, no work can come into being except in
a particular place at a particular time. The specific history of Korea
underlies and gives birth to the works of literature that we are concerned
to translate and communicate here.
Only what a history! There can be few countries that
have undergone so many varieties of suffering. If modern Korea is still
coming to birth, the birth pains have lasted for at least a century now,
with the collapse of the Yi Dynasty, the Japanese colonial annexation,
and then the tragic events of the Korean War, and the following period.
In this second number of our review, we offer works by
a number of writers which reflect the terrible suffering experienced at
the time of the Korean War. In particular, this issue highlights the work
of Hwang Sun-won, but the reader will also note the tale by Lee Bom-son
and the continuation of Park Wan-so's "The Naked Tree".
After the Korean War, the Republic of Korea embarked
on a process of urbanization and industrialization which brought about
immense transformations of society. The emphasis on materialism and the
lack of concern for the simple people who suffered during these years provoked
many important works of literature. In this context, the story "Counterfeit"
by Kim Jun-sung represents a highly imaginative response to the prevailing
mammonism. Poems by Chong Chi-yong, Kim Ch'un-su, and Shin Kyong-rim are
representative of the best poetry of those years of pain.
Suffering as such has no value and mere evocations of
intense suffering, even in literary form, quickly become intolerable. Works
arising from a history of pain can only endure and be valued if they suggest
to the reader something of the ways in which some trace of human dignity
remains even in times of apparent despair. If modern Korean history has
been marked by unmatched pain, perhaps the literature resulting from it
will prove to be a source of unmatched hope in essential humanity. The
reader must be the judge.
To end on a practical note: some readers have commented
on the inconsistent rendering of Korean names in the first issue. We were
aware of this problem, but much of the material we used was reprinted from
elsewhere and we did not feel it would be correct to change the method
of transcription employed by the original writer or editor. New contributions
normally employ some form of simplified McCune-Reischauer. We would value
readers' comments on this or other aspects of the publication, which is
a strictly non-commercial enterprise.