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‘Sad song’ for ostracized fathers of this age

Posted July. 05, 2014 02:36,   


A big family consisting of grandparents, parents, three brothers and three sisters, children staving off hunger by biting arrow-roots, a boy handing out a stool sample bag while holding nose, briquette gas permeating into the room during the raining night, siblings sacrificing for the oldest brother who is attending a college…

Korea’s representative novelist Seong Seok-je has returned with a new novel in two years, which presents detailed descriptions on the ages between the Japanese colonial rule and the 2000s. Events surrounding three generations in the family of Kim Man-soo, the main character, are described by many narrators including his family members, colleagues and friends from their own perspectives.

Grandfather of the main character had turned his back to the world, after suffering from the ideological issues during the Japanese colonial era. Man-soo’s father became a farmer to support the family, holding grudges against his father. Mother and sisters in Man-soo’s family took care of other family members without uttering any complaints. The oldest brother, the smartest among siblings, went to a prestigious university in Seoul. He had all the expectations of the family on his shoulders but died from defoliant poisoning during the Vietnam War. Younger brother Seok-su, who was clever but tenacious, kept bullying and ignoring Man-soo.

After the family moved to Seoul and established a life in a single room on the outskirts of the city, Man-soo’s father felt so low to become a heavy drinker, left Man-soo to take on the role of breadwinner for the family. While attending a vocational school, he worked after school to earn money. During service in the military as a riot police to support traffic police officers, the hero became corrupted to take trivial briberies. He finally reached a managerial position at a factory after certain time passed. With his unique simple-minded diligence, he kept making sacrifices for his family and the factory but the only things he faced with were criticism and ostracism.

People whose existence is neglected even treated as invisible are called "invisible men." Kim Man-soo is another invisible man only to be crowded out to the outskirts of the society, even after exerting all the efforts to survive out the compressed growth era. This novel is a sad song dedicated to fathers of this age, who have been running all the way in such a cruel world but ended up being ostracized.