‘The girl later became a famous photographer and wrote a post on her blog: “Dear class president. What do you think is the greatest thing humans can do? A wise man once said saving people’s lives is the greatest thing, which not many of us can do.”
The novel “The Escort of Lights” by Cho Hae-jin is about people who did that great job. The novel starts from the photographer’s elementary school years. The girl had been missing school for three days and her homeroom teacher told the class president to go check her out. The girl was lying on a cold room of her house without a kitchen or a bathroom, covering herself from head to toe with just a blanket. The class president thought the girl would soon die from cold and hunger. The thought scared the boy. So he gave the girl an imported camera he found at his house so that she could make money by selling the camera.
And the camera saved the girl, who almost gave up on her life. She started taking pictures of the things in her room instead of selling the camera. She went out to the world to take more pictures. She finally experienced the magical moment, where the piles of lights from all corners of the world envelop the subjects of photography, which gave a reason to live to her. She became a professional photographer, taking pictures in conflict areas of the world.
Before leaving for a refugee camp in Syria, she was asked what she is going to take pictures of. “I’m going to take pictures of ordinary people, who would have cried only as much as you and I if it weren’t for the war,” said Cho. She meant to take photos of those people, who are as ordinary as most of us but had to cry bitterly because of the pain and suffering the war gave to them. Sympathy for others was what the class president showed her 20 years ago.
Cho’s novels depict the solidarity of people: the class president, who was willing to give his classmate his camera; the photographer, who does not mind being hurt and takes pictures of others’ pains; and those who saved others’ lives not only in Korea but in all corners of the world. They are the people who are escorted by lights. Her novels are the example that sympathy for others still exists even in this era of indifference and cynicism.