Novel Portrays Chaos of Unified Korea
“Private Life of a Nation”
by Lee Eung-joon;
Minumsa: 261 pp., 11,000 won
Any Korean might imagine the reunification of the Korean Peninsula ― some may be longing for it while others dislike it.
A new novel ``Private Life of a Nation'' written by author Lee Eung-joon portrays the dark reality of reunification through his fictional characters.
The author spent three years studying North Korean defectors and read about 300 books related to North Korea.
The novel is a combination of various genres such as noir, thriller, black comedy, fable and melodrama and vividly depicts North Koreans who fail to adapt themselves to the new capitalist society stricken with drugs, sex and crime.
But at the same time, the book intensively deals with the matter of identification among Koreans after reunification from a ``private'' perspective rather than a political one.
The story is set in Seoul in 2016, five years after the two Koreas are unified. After North Korea was absorbed by the South in 2011, the North Korean army of 1.2 million soldiers was dismantled by the unified government. An enormous amount of conventional weapons were lost, creating social disorder and the forcibly discharged soldiers must seek new jobs.
The North still remains barren without any decent social infrastructure, driving North Koreans into the South to search for a decent life. Some of them become social ragtags or gangsters in South.
In the novel, the unified Korea is mixed with confusion and conflict between North and South Koreans. Such chaos is fused in an organized gangster syndicate that consists of North Koreans, former central figures in the North Korean army who have failed to adapt themselves to the new society.
The story unfolds with a mysterious murder in the crime syndicate known as ``Daedong River.'' Lee Gang, a former North Korean soldier, is the charismatic second man for the crime syndicate.
During a trip to Pyongyang, one of his colleagues is murdered. As Lee looks into the case, he gets entangled in a complicated scheme.
The story is full of the vivid portrayals of cruel and relentless crime scenes strongly reminiscent of a film noir.
Through the character of Lee Gang, the author tries to elaborate his vision about the collapse of a heroic North Korean warrior who dabbles in drugs and crime to sooth his sense of futility after reunification.
The protagonist is described as a sympathetic figure suffering strong oppressive feelings, and wanting to shoot himself on the street if he had a gun. The author also draws him as a man who is living, but has ``already died,'' which indicates his lost identity.
The story shows not only Lee's desperation but also the miserable lives of other North Koreans. The daughter of a former North Korean high-ranking military officer works as a prostitute, while an ex-North Korean announcer hangs herself and North Korean teachers are driven out of schools. Also, more than 60 slums housing North Koreans sprout up across the nation.
The story also reveals South Korean society's ills such as the strong obsession for real estate, showing many South Koreans claiming ancestors' rights before the Korean War over North Korean land.
``The South Korean-style capitalism is real estate. Look at what these villains are doing now after going far above the cease-fire line. They are going to build a church on the top of Mt. Myohyang and claim the rights to the waters of the Daedong River,'' the book says.
The unified Korea in the novel is apparently gloomy and chaotic particularly for North Koreans. The author shows how individuals are affected by a great change in history, which they cannot influence, and how they cope with this in their daily lives. [source: koreantimes]