First of all, Akeldama by Park Sang-ryooong is a must buy for it’s provocative style and theme.
Second of all, it was an amusing message to me about how smart I thought I was about translated Korean literature, and how fleeting such feelings can be.
Every once in a while you think you have Korean literature in translation figured out.
My thinking went something like this:
… “oh yeah, in the colonial period they wrote about issues having to do with modernism and colonialism before the Japanese cracked down and more naturalistic stuff after; then they wrote about issues of division; then they wrote about the suffering caused by sped/enforced modernization; then they started worrying about ennui and loss of essence; and, now, they’re going all post modern. You know, it’s Koreans writing (or arguing) about what is or should be happening in society at any point….”
Then you pick up a book like Park Sang-ryoongs Akeldama and get smacked in the face with how wrong you can be. Akeldama, which leads off the Avant-Garde section of collection three of the (currently) four collections, radically imagines the last days of Judas Iscariot in scenes of sex, violence, and filth that will likely leave indelible marks on the reader’s brain, and, may be for some highly religious readers, a bit offensive.
From the very outset, by his description of Judas himself cross and lazy eyed, as well as with eyes of two differen colors, Park suggests that nothing you are about to read is what you expect, and Park carries that suggestion out, almost to the last word of his work.
In ‘real life’ Akeldama is a place of which you can find the dual (both deriving from Judas) biblical meaning here. In the story Akeldama, Park takes the Acts of the Apostles (1:18–19)’s description of the end of Judas’ life, “Falling headfirst he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out,” and transplants it to a shabby hovel, where Judas has lived with a grandmotherly woman, and to which he returns after betraying Jesus.
Judas has returned a madman, incapable of cleaning himself, barely capable of eating and drinking, and violently separated from all he has been before, in fact perhaps from all humanity. This is not the only re-imagining Park does in this work, as there is a critical scene/hallucination the interpretation of which will alter the meaning of the book for the reader. In 20 pages Park manages to invoke the spirit of the Bible, The Marquis DeSade, the satyr, and Mary Magdalena as a violence inducing hottie, into a story with a very slight plot (although, the history surrounding the incident in a way gives it a framing plot of substantial importance) that tosses grotesque images against distorted symbols until they function as a plot.
A rather amazing book.
The Afterward also seems to mark Park as an amazing writer, one of the few (see my imagined monologue above) who writes about events outside of Korea (Kim Young-ha, Kim In-Suk, Ch’oe In-ho being the first three that spring to my mind), and maybe the ONLY (at least in translation, Korean writers who writes entirely without using a Korean character in his novella).
A rather amazing book.
• Series: Akeldama (Bi-lingual Edition Modern Korean Literature, Volume 41)
• Paperback: 80 pages (includes bilingual text, biography, criticism and summary)
• Publisher: Asia Publishers (2013)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 8994006044
• ISBN-13: 978-8994006048
NOTE ABOUT THE COLLECTION
There are actually four collections here, “Bi-lingual Edition Modern Korean Literature Volume One”, Volume Two, Volume Three, and volume Four has just been published. The collections are of 15 small volumes each, and each collection is broken into topics with the first collections comprising Division, Industrialization, and Women; the second comprising Liberty, Love, and North/South, and; the third collection comprising Seoul, Tradition, and Avant Garde (can’t say about the fourth collection as I haven’t yet seen it)
In addition, each story comes with a kind of critical summary, several bits of critical analysis, and a biography of the author. When these pieces are put together, it makes the stories much easier to read, as the necessary cultural and historical background is neatly presented to the reader.