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Mother is a Star in the Sky

Posted May. 03, 2008 08:50,   


After fighting against cerebrovascular stroke, author Kim Won-il’s passion for writing is more intense than ever. Following the publication of the novel, “Scorpion,” last year, he completed his seventh collection "Omani Byeol" (meaning “Mother Star”) this year.

The critical mind of the writer, who has long been inquiring into the tragedy of national divide, is well preserved in the new collection. “Sixty years have gone since the nation was divided into two, but unification is far away. The main theme of the short stories in this collection is the pain and dark side of our people living in an era of divide,” the author said. Reading through Kim’s ripe stories, one is heavily stricken with the heaviness of the ongoing divide. Omani Byeol, which is the cover story, is exemplary.

In this story, Cho believes that his sister was bombed and killed during the Korean War. But one day, he hears news that a woman, who apparently is his lost sister, has appeared. Cho was separated from his sister when he was five, and 50 years have passed. Even if they do meet, they wouldn’t be able to recognize each other. They still manage to meet.

Cho left his hometown in Pyongan Province, North Korea as a child and loses his sister during a bombing. Though child Cho is wounded in the head and bleeding, he strives to find his sister, without success. Cold weather, during the search for shelter, is harsh, but nevertheless prevents his wound from taking a bad turn. He visits this house and that house begging for food. He sleeps under the eaves of commoners’ homes with his body swelling large from hyperthermia. He grabs anyone on the street and cries, “Mother, Sister!” He is adopted by a good couple, the Chos, and is named Cho Pyong-an.

It is the omani byeol that lets Lee Su-ok, Cho’s sister, confirm that Cho Pyong-an is actually her younger brother, Lee Jung-gil. When their mother passed away during the war, the sister and brother looked up in the sky and mumbled, “Mother is gone to the sky and turned into the star. Can you see?” It was not any bodily sign but the shared memory of the warm word “omani byeol” that allows the two discover that they are siblings. This device, set up by the author with the skill to sensitively elaborate on the language, has a huge emotional impact.

The story of old man Kim’s life in "Yongchodo Camellia" is also stunning. Old man Kim spent the war years as a soldier in the concentration camps of Geojedo and Yongchodo. For him, separation from his loved one is the strongest memory. “I’ll wait and we’ll meet here five years later in the first week of March. If we fail, I’ll wait for five more years and come to Yongchodo again.” Through a dry and not-too-emotional literary style, the wound of love is employed without any regrets.

What the author asserts is that the value of love is unharmed by the tragedy of history, not to mention the love between family members that reignites after a 50 year interval in the story "Omani Byeol." In "Yongchodo Camellia," old man Kim expresses his conviction about love, saying, “I’ll wait for what it takes, five years, ten years, or whatever.” “Imjingang” that depicts friendship toughened through the experience of war is also a love story, touching upon human love.

“For 40 years I’ve been asking myself what a novel is,” author Kim confessed. The answer, which he suggests to his readers through the six short stories in this book, is “novel is love.”