Clear days and Stormy Days

Posted: September 28, 2014 in Korea
Tags: ,

“Clear days and Stormy days shall all pass”. Hwang Sok-yong

I really enjoyed 10 Book Club’s conference with the celebrated Korean author Hwang Sok-yong yesterday afternoon. Hwang Sok-yong came across a free thinker that led his life instead of having it dictated to him; he fought on the side of the Americans during the Vietnam, a dissident during the development dictatorship, he visited North Korea to meet Kim Il-sung, was sentenced to 7 years prison for violating South Korea’s national security law, lived in exile for a few years and then served out his term in prison.

A few themes intrigued me: Hwang

1. From the ‘Road to Sampo’: he explores the loss of the hometown with globalization/modernization. Characters want to return to their hometown Sampo, but this place no longer exists. This theme particularly resonates with me (as you can surmise from the title of the blog). My search has always been for the universal hometown, perhaps this can only be found within. But hard road it is; perhaps even a road to nowhere.

2. From ‘The Old Garden’: In their minds, the two protagonists of this novel live in different time periods. Hwang draws from his time in prison (where we was even denied the use of pen and paper) and comes to terms with this period through a romance novel, where romance is not restricted to the physical. I thought the idea of mentally living in a time period other than the present to be interesting. After all, many people do live in the past of the future.

The quote “Clear days and Stormy days shall all pass” was also a message to the youth of Korea to live in the present, not some hypothetical future. He had been reflecting on the pressure that young women and men felt in Korean society, for women, the pressure to conform to outdated social standards and for men to be incorporate into rigid institutions – leading to unhappiness (75th on happiness index) and suicide (#1 in developed world).

This malaise of youth is clearly evident in Korea, where many of the young people I have spoken to find themselves in a kind of social ‘straight-jacket’; but it also present in the West where the economic crisis continues to exact a disproportionate burden on young adults. The dream of many European teenagers is to leave their home and cross the Atlantic.

3. From “The Guest”: The influence of Marxism and Christianity, two competing philosophies imported into Korea from Russia and by America as Guests to form the foundations of what is modern Korea.

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