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[Opinion] Remembering Novelist Park Kyung-ni

Posted May. 06, 2008 05:25,   


The first image the late novelist Park Kyung-ni conjures up is Wonju, Gangwon Province. The city is where she settled down in 1980 at age 54. She had no shortage of interview requests since she was considered the leading author of contemporary Korean literature and someone who stuck to her beliefs throughout life. Whenever she granted interviews, she had reporters visit her home surrounded by the lap of nature. Her foresight on the importance of the environment began in the early 1980s. She often said, “Someday water would be for sale. We have to save water and the like.” Her wisdom and power to see into the future was as keen as her literary achievements.

Her study is where she wrote her masterpiece “Toji” and lived life in accordance with nature. The room’s historical value grew as time went by. Park, however, had to move to the city as the site of her home was designated a residential site. Though her home was saved from demolition, it no longer had the same old and rural surroundings. Her artistic inspiration came not from the single building the author lived in all her life, but all of the surroundings that influenced her novels. In this sense, the home of her literature was a street she walked along and the neighborhood she lived in. When news of her death broke yesterday, nobody was sadder than the residents of her hometown Wonju.

The environmental movement she pressed for has something in common with “Toji.” She used to say, “In the world of living creatures, everything comes down to kill or be killed. In this regard, life is full of sorrow.” She urged sympathy stemming from the sorrow to turn into compassion for all living creatures. Her epic novel “Toji” is about sympathy and love for life. When her words refused to remain in her writings, they became a manifestation of her environmental drive.

Her novel contained a staggering 16 volumes comprising more than 31,000 manuscripts of 200-words. The work depicted the turbulent history of Korea, ranging from the turn of the 20th century when the country was under Japanese imperial rule to liberation in 1945. Her writing career started with her first work “Calculation” in 1955. She never lost interest in her life. “The Old House” released in March last year was reminiscent of the time when she lived in the countryside in Wonju. “With my contemptible life gone/ I am content with my old days, I have no desire/ the burden I carry will be left when I say goodbye, I feel free and easy.” She summarized her turbulent life by saying, “I wouldn’t have written novels if I was happy,” but she must have been delighted to finally return to nature.

Editorial writer Hong Chan-shik (chansik@donga.com)