“Feel like I had lost my mom,” said Gong Ji-young, the renowned author whowrote several best-seller novels in an interviewwith Hankook Ilbo. Writer Lee Oi-sooexpressed his condolences through his twitter, “Park finished her picnic in this worldthis dawn and left us.” One of the mostbeloved Korean authors, Park Wan-suh,passed away on January 22. The funeralwas held in a small way just as Park’s modestlife style. Before her death, Park asked her family to refuse all condolence money. Last year, she left us her last collection ofessays, The Road Not Taken is More Beautiful. As this major figure of Koreanliterature passed away, mourning readersare shedding light on this book.
Her Traumas and Her Stories
People are reminiscing about Park by reading her latest essays which offer warm consolation and reminds readers of the weight of life. There is a theme running through all the essays in this book; looking back on Park’s experiences that led her to be a writer.
Park was born in 1931 at Gaepung, a countryside village now regarded as a land of North Korea. Park spent her youth in this small village during the Japanese colonial period. She was bred in the traditional culturewithin affection of her grandfather. Park wrote it as the happiest period of her life in her books numerous times.At her mother’s demand, she moved to Seoul and was educated to become an intellecture women attending university. She entered Seoul National University to major in Korean Language and Literature. However, soon after entering, she had to withdraw from her study due to the outbreak of the Korean War.
Her family had trouble during the evacuation of Seoul and had to remain in the war zone since her brother got shot. Thus, Park’s family had to experience the war of conflicting ideologies all the way through. Due to the fact that her brother was in the voluntary army for short time, he finally got killed. These disastrous memories of war made a huge trauma on Park. Park wrote about this painful experience repeatedly in her novels and essays. In her last essay, The Road Not Taken is More Beautiful, she expressed the sorrow and hardship of this time as “cold weather.” Park wrote that at first, she thought it was just a “psychological feeling of coldness” but she realized it was “physical.” Park stated, “It may was not this year’s coldness but the coldness of year of Byungja (1950)...... Feeling the uncomfortable freezing temperature as a symptom of flu, the sorrow attacked me. At last the coldness of year of Byungja gave me the flu and it lasted three months. Where did that cruel coldness came from, which could not be warmed by any physical heat?”
After this severe experience of the Korean War, her life totally changed as she said in The Road Not Taken is More Beautiful. Park illustrated her expected lifebefore the war as “my dreamed brocade hadbeen chopped yet only weaved a span long.” Park suffered from poverty after war in her twenties. “I am a soul stopped growing at my twenty,” Park wrote in The Road Not Taken is More Beautiful. Park could not help herself from writing this experience into novels and essays, since it was too painful to keep inside of her. “How nice would it be if there was no more sorrow in my heart to write about. In conclusion, it will be the right to say that I wrote to make it lighter,” Park wrote in Why I Do Literature in 2002, Hankook Ilbo. Park’s life and literature can be summarized in thatsentence. It was not to take revenge or to criticize the unforgettable trauma of war in her twenties, but to remedy herself by writing. Park’s literature reveals afterimages of war remaining inside of her and makes compensation for the wounded time. Through her work that helped cure her own soul, others can be comforted with their own hardship and sufferings. Her mature writing style was heartwarming and pleasant enough while still sincerely answering the question of life. Park did not lose her own standpoint toward the world with her friendly sentences.
Underlining the Life
The Road Not Taken is More Beautiful consists of three parts of twenty eight essays. First part is “Underline of My Life”containing her self-examination of daily life and past. The second part is named, “Trail of Books.” Park reviews thirteen books form her angle and makes readersparticipate in reading with her. Chosen books vary in subject of stories and each has its own philosophy. They reveal both the author’s cultural taste and her view
toward life. The last part is “For Nostalgia,” written about her personal memories of three people; the cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, the legendary author of Korean literature Park Kyung-ni, and Park Su-geun, the famous Korean artist around the world. The writer’s affection toward these three figures can be read between the lines. If asked to write about three precious people in one’s life, wonder who can express their devotion and attachment toward them better than Park.
For example, Park depicted a lunch with Park Kyung-ni treated her when she was in the great sorrow of losing her son as “return to her native home.” Readers can catch Park’s effort to show utmost respect to these three people in moderate sentences. Her texts seem to teach readers how to miss people and admire their life but not to be over sentimental.
Mostly in the “Underline of My Life,” readers would feel as if they are listening to a friendly old lady talking about her routine. “I could easily bring up the image of my own grandma by reading The Road Not Taken is More Beautiful. I even felt like Park is lovely old woman telling her grandchild old day stories,” said Jang Hye-won, a Sophomore majoring in Library and Information Science in Yonsei University, after reading the book. Park wrote much about her yard. The episodes of her struggling with weeds and grasses in her yard called out nostalgia for rural life to readers. Park shows her consideration of life with numerous topics to thereaders. Park wrote about friendly topicssuch as soccer, movie, Namdaemoon, foreignworker from Yanbian, and Han River. Then, she brought out themes that include her insight and critical mind according to the topics. Her words give straight forward insight that also criticizes the world. Park strongly denied the materialism causing desertification of humanity. Park reflects her own “shameless sense of justice” and “coward pacifism” facing the collapsed Namdaemun and the tragedy of submersed Cheonanham. This skillful writer can leadreaders into deeper thinking after easy reading.The first part of this book embraces pieces of her life that can be easily sympathized with Koreans. Numerous bestsellers of her reveal that Koreans felt kinship with her stories.
The Mother and Teacher of the Time
“I confused Shin Kyung-sook’s mom in her novel, Please Look After Mom, with my mom. Maybe they have much in common, being the mother of disappearing generation in agricultural period,” Park wrote. As she was missing her own mother who lived the agricultural time, Koreans remember her as mother who shares her warm heart with others. By reading Park’s, Koreans could feel back home thanks to her warm sentences that soothe one’s loneliness. Love towards life and humanity shown by this old woman living in the countryside comforted contemporaries.
Park will be remembered not only as a mother, but also as an admirable teacher of the time. Her steady ways to get over past hardships of life while taking care of others gave great impression to all. Park had to experience losing her husband and son in a single year. Tragic events happened successively more than she could carry in her life.
However, Park never let the sorrow conquer her. “It was time that passed by me. Time treated me. It was love from many others that made it an effective remedy.” As Park wrote in “Underline of My Life,” she knew how to tango in her life, thus she could be a great mentor to us.