A man torn by history
Land of Banished
By Jo Jung-rae
(Jimoondang, 5,000 won)
A heart-rending tale of a man warped by the hardships of the Korean War, Jo Jung-rae’s “Land of Banished” vividly portrays a victim of Korea’s checkered history.
Mahn-seok, the protagonist, is born into a family of landless peasants in the late 1920s Korea. All the members of his family are servants of a nobleman called Choi.
While Mahn-seo is young, he often witnesses his father being physically abused by the nobleman, and insulted by the nobleman’s children. Mahn-seok dreams of revenge against all noblemen as a young boy.
When the Korean War breaks out, Mahn-seok is in his 20s. He quickly joins the communist army and destroys every household of nobility in town, including Choi’s. He murders countless noblemen, thinking of it as the only way to overcome the painful memories of his childhood.
Meanwhile, his wife has an affair with one of the Communist officers. Catching the two together, Mahn-seok kills both of them on the spot and leaves his hometown for good. Soon after Mahn-seok leaves, the communist forces kill his parents and his 3-year-old son.
Mahn-seok then works as a construction worker, moving from one place to another. At one construction site, he meets a young woman named Soon-im. He soon gets a job as a janitor at an apartment complex and marries her. A few years later, the married couple welcomes a son together. His son, Cheol-soo, becomes Mahn-seok’s only purpose in life.
Mahn-seok one day loses his job at the apartment complex as its management decides to cut the number of workers. Though now 53, he decides to go back to the old construction site to raise and support his son. He lives and works at the site and sends money home every week, but Soon-im runs away with a younger man, taking all the money Mahn-seok’s been sending.
Together with his son, Mahn-seok tries to find his wife but to no avail. He soon becomes ill and ends up sending his son to an orphanage. Having nowhere to go, Mahn-seok returns to his hometown after 30 years but no one greets him. He dies alone under a bridge.
Born in 1943 in South Jeolla Province, Jo studied Korean literature at Dongguk University. Since his debut in the 1970s, Jo has been exploring diverse literary themes, particularly Korea’s history and its impact on individuals.
Jo’s works have been translated and published in France, Germany, Japan and the U.S.