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Ho-Chul Lee, Prominent Korean Author, to Appear at KCS-NY

“A voice calling for reunification of the Korean peninsula emerges from the darkness”

Korean Cultural Service New York
460 Park Ave., at 57th St.
Sixth Floor
New York, NY 10022

Tuesday, November 30, 6:00 pm
Admission: free

Famous novelist, essayist and pro-democracy dissident Ho-Chul Lee will give a reading at the Korean Cultural Service New York, celebrating the publication of the English translation of his novel, Southerners, Northerners: A Novel of the Korean War, and a book of short stories, Panmunjom and Other Stories. After the reading, he will attend a reception with audience members.

Ho-Chul Lee’s works have been roundly praised both inside and outside of Korea. Korea’s Chosun Ilbo writes, “More than anything else, Ho-Chul Lee’s works tell us what it means to be human.”

Southerners, Northerners and Panmunjom and Other Stories are works deeply concerned with the problem of division – politically, between North and South Korea, and on an individual level, between humans. Both books will be available for purchase and author signing at the reading.

Southerners, Northerners
Shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War, when he was eighteen, Ho-Chul Lee was drafted into the North Korean army. Southerners, Northerners (Namnyeok saram pungnyeok saram) is a fictionalized account of his inglorious yet dramatic experiences as a raw recruit and, soon afterward, as a prisoner of war. Beginning with some fascinating vignettes of North Korean high school life and ending with a narrow escape from death, the story offers a unique perspective on the early phases of the war and its everyday realities, from the tragic to the farcical.

Southerners, Northerners has been published in seven languages, including French, German, Chinese and Japanese. The English translation of Southerners, Northerners was completed by Andrew Peter Killick and Sukyeon Cho. Andrew Killick and Sukyeon Cho have been translating Korean fiction together since 1996, when they won the Korea Times Modern Korean Literature Translation Prize. Professsor Killick is a British ethnomusicologist with a research specialization in Korea, while Ms. Cho is a prize-winning freelance translator. Southerners, Northerners is published by EastBridge Press as part of its Signature Books Series.

Panmunjom and Other Stories
This volume is composed of thirteen stories selected by the author himself from his more than one hundred short stories and novellas written over the past fifty years. Except for two stories that were translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton, the stories were translated by Columbia University scholar Theodore Hughes. Of the stories, Hughes writes:

“Almost all of the short stories by Lee Ho-Chul that appear in Panmunjom and Other Stories by Lee Ho-Chul concern themselves, in one way or another, with the devastating effects of North/South division on everyday life, particularly on the lives of separated families (isan gajog), those who left the North for the South in the tumultuous period following the 1945 liberation of Korea from Japanese rule and during the subsequent Korean War (1950-1953). The fact that both the earliest story included in this collection, “Far from Home” (1955), and the latest, “Separated Family, Divided Nation—A Lamentation” (1999), explore the trauma experienced by these families itself attests to a tragedy that extends well beyond the three-year Korean War. To read Lee Ho-Chul is to begin to understand the extent of the suffering felt by those separated from family members—sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers—for over half a century. For them, the war continues—every day.”

About the author
Now in the sixth decade of what has been a rich and prolific literary career, Ho-Chul Lee tells us, “It is my belief that in the final analysis all writers produce works commensurate with the struggles they have undergone in their own lives.” Certainly Ho-Chul Lee is no exception to this rule. Debuting on the South Korean literary scene in 1955 with “Far from Home,” a short story set during the Korean War that describes the psychological torment felt by refugees in South Korea as they begin to understand that they will not be able to return to their hometown in the North, Lee embarked on a literary career that includes numerous novels, short stories, newspaper columns, articles and essays. At the heart of all of his work is the pain of separation, the suffering felt by refugees in the South unable to return home. Over the years, Lee’s works have increasing explored the depths of the tragedy brought to bear on the lives of ordinary people by the division of the Korean peninsula. Lee explains his views on reunification:

“The issue of North/South division can only be resolved by showing the true nature of the political power making up the regimes of both Koreas. Think of this political power as a piece of firewood that must be split asunder into ever narrower fragments in order to fit it into the fireplace—only when this is done will its true character manifest itself. . . . Reunification can only occur when both regimes step down from their positions on high and return to the everyday, to a respect for the ways in which people live and interact on a daily basis. . . . The task facing us today is far more difficult than that which confronted those who achieved the reunification of Germany. In 1945, both sides, North and South, did nothing but blindly rush to form authoritarian regimes; this led to a disastrous war and, in the end, to the tense situation on the peninsula we have been living with for the past half century.”

In the 1970s, Ho-Chul Lee became a leading dissident in the pro-democracy movement. Incarcerated twice in 1974 and 1980, Lee suffered greatly at the hands of the military regimes. Lee’s opposition to the authoritarian state should be seen as part of his extended effort to achieve North/South reunification. Regarding developments in Korea over the past twenty years, Lee offers the following analysis:

“It was in the late 1980s that the political structure in the South began to achieve a degree of normalcy, to return to an understanding of ordinary people and their concerns. The upshot of this was an astonishingly rapid recovery of a sense of community, a feeling of ‘living together’; the entire country seemed set on the road toward prosperity. What is more, it was the return of politics to the people that led to President Kim Dae Jung’s visit to Pyongyang and the North/South summit meeting of August 2000. . . . The decisive factor in returning government to the level of the people and their sense of ‘living together’ was none other than the dissident pro-democracy movement in South Korea. It is for this reason that I feel that the time I spent in jail and the efforts I made in my literary works to grapple with the issue of reunification were not wasted—they were part of a movement that bore fruit.”

For half a century Ho-Chul Lee has devoted himself to Korean literature: he has written literature, and he has lived it. His achievement was honored in 1992, when he received the highest award given to artists in South Korea, appointment to the National Academy of Arts. Ho-Chul Lee received both the Daesan Literature Prize and the National Academy of Arts Prize for his 1996 Southerners, Northerners. Translated into Polish, Japanese, German, French and Chinese, Southerners, Northerners has been warmly received by a global readership. English translations of Southerners, Northerners and Panmunjom and Other Stories will be published by EastBridge Press in October 2004.

About the Korean Cultural Service New York
The Korean Cultural Service New York works under the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea to promote mutual cultural understanding between the United States and Korea. For more information about the Cultural Service and its programs, please visit www.koreanculture.org.