Review: The Wounded (병신과 머저리) by Yi Cheong-jun (이청준)

The Wounded CoverBi-lingual edition published by ASIA Publishers
Translated by Jennifer M. Lee
(NOTE: This is not the same edition of The Wounded previously published in the Portable Library of Korean Literature and reviewed by KTLIT here.)
Reviewed by Dongmi Hwang

 The Wounded, originally titled “The Cripple and the Fool”, was published in 1966 to great literary acclaim. Although the revised English title is not a literal translation of the original Korean title, it captures the essence of the story. Jennifer Lee’s translation is very well done making this complicated story an easy read. She gives us an honest translation of the vivid and sometimes gruesome imagery.

Yi Cheong-jun’s story is set in the 1960’s, a time when South Korea was still reeling from the impacts of the Korean War. Two brother’s, one a veteran, one not, clash against each other in this short story of existential crisis.

The older brother, a doctor, loses a patient on the operating table. This sends him over the edge and he begins to drink in copious amounts. However, he also begins to write a novel and in writing he releases the demons from his time as a soldier, a time when he was party to horrible abuse and ultimately murder.

The younger brother, an artist, is experiencing a creative block as he tries to capture a face on his canvas. After reading his older brother’s work, the younger cannot distance himself from it. He grows obsessed and haunted by his need to know the ending.

The two brother’s art and writing are reflections of their mental anguish. There is no cure for the wounds of war for the older and the younger brother is suffering from a different kind of wound, a wound without a source.

Yi Cheong-jun’s story is a reflection of an entire decade in the aftermath of a war where there was no conclusion. The Korean war split a nation of people in half literally and figuratively. Korea as a nation was torn apart and the deaths of thousands of soldiers did nothing to change that. Instead, the country remained divided, there was no conclusion, just a stalemate that continues to this day.

The psychology of an entire nation that had to deal with that reality is portrayed in The Wounded. Those who fought and those that didn’t, all were left with a wound that they cannot heal.


However, besides the existential questions and implications, it’s also just a good read with psychological thrills and some mystery.

2 thoughts on “Review: The Wounded (병신과 머저리) by Yi Cheong-jun (이청준)

  1. Hey Charles,

    Did you realize that the translation missed a few things? For instance, when the narrator describes his poor situation in the rain, the translator minimizes the sentence by just saying it is raining lightly.


  2. Pingback: Review: The Land of the Wounded by Yi Cheong-jun

Comments are closed.