A Gloomy Picture of Unified Korea from Lee Eung-joon – “Gukgaui Sasaenghwa (Private Life of the Nation)”

Another Reunion? Dear Lord!

From Monday’s Korea Herald A Gloomy Picture of Unified Korea. This is an interesting piece to pair with Kim Young-ha’s interview covered here two days ago. Lee Eung-joon takes Kim’s question, are North and South Korea still one nation divided, and pushes the concept by re-uniting the two Koreas to see what happens.

The results are pretty ugly. As the Herald summarizes them:

Published by Minumsa, the novel envisions a new Korea saddled with the repercussions of a unification scenario. North Koreans are suddenly dragged down the social ladder: Many once-powerful members of the North Korean army become gangsters; missing guns and rifles circulate wildly; countless North Koreans opt not to get citizen IDs, instead hiding in the invisible corners of a confused society.

At the end it seems like Lee and the article would like to have it both ways:

The unified Korea in the novel is explicitly gloomy and depressing for North Koreans, a fictional device that Lee said would help the readers understand the importance of a positive change for the future. “If I were to summarize my novel in a single word, I would pick `change,` because that`s the key message I want to get across to readers yet to think deeply about the reunification of Korea,” Lee said

The article says an interesting thing:

Due to the subject matter, “Private Life of the Nation” is likely to be deemed a political novel, but Lee said he wants it to be regarded as a serious literary work that comes with structure, style and philosophical underpinnings.

Two More Flavors the Don't Go Together

This is interesting because it is one of the first times I have heard politics and fiction disarticulated in this way. Particularly considering how much Korean fiction has been serialized by explicitly (and sometimes implicitly, as under Japanese occupation) political newspapers and magazines, how much talk there has been about a ‘national literature,’ and how pundan munhak is political by its very nature, I find this distinction odd.

Quite possibly it refers to some schism in Korean literature that I am not yet sophisticated enough to be aware of. If not, it is interesting to see a contrast created here.