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Finding Hope in Century of Violence

Posted July. 14, 2007 04:44,   


Princess Bari is the seventh daughter of the Great King O Gwi of the Bula Kingdom. She is thrown out of the palace right after her birth because she is not a boy. However, when she reunites with her ailing parents as a teenage girl, she decides to risk her own life to find “the water of life.”

Hwang Seok-yeong (64, picture) revived the ancient tale of Princess Bari, an epic narrative that is considered one of the most important pieces of Korean feminist literature. In his book, Bari is destined to save the ailing 21st century instead of her parents.

The contemporary character is not a princess, but the seventh child of an office worker living in a port city in North Korea. For her parents who wanted to have a son, she is just another burden. However, the youngest daughter has a special ability. She can talk with ghosts, animals and mutes. However, the worsening economic situation of the North eventually throws her out of the house, making her wander nomadically like the original character.

The writer vividly shows the misery of North Korea through the footsteps of Bari; people die from famine or floods; defected North Koreans barely manage to eke out their livelihood in border towns; women board smuggling ships due to their debts and end up being raped and beaten by human-trafficking gang members. Hwang calls the North “the neglected backyard of our house.” He reminds us how neglectful we have become to our backyard by uncovering the plights of people in the forsaken land.

Hwang, who has been staying in Europe for the past three years, places an emphasis on Bari’s wandering. The writer, who is well aware that the buzzwords of the 21st century are “movement” and “harmony,” not “race” or “ideology,” sends Bari roaming from China to London. She works as a masseuse to make ends meet and then marries Pakistani Ali.

As much as Princess Bari is eager to find the water of life, she, a North Korean defector, longs to have a baby. However, the fiction comes to an end with a scene that we are all familiar with, the 2005 London terror bombings. The book leaves the task of rescuing the world, where violence is still prevalent, to Bari, now a global citizen, and its readers.

The writer urges us not to stop making efforts to make this world a better place. “Those who give up hope are no better than the dead,” says Abdul, an old gentleman in the book.