Encounter: A Novel of Nineteenth-Century Korea

Encounter: A Novel of Nineteenth-Century Korea

Encounter: A Novel of Nineteenth-Century Korea

Encounter: A Novel of Nineteenth-Century Korea

Synopsis

This historical novel, Encounter ( Mannam), by Hahn Moo-Sook, one of Asia's most honored writers, is a story of the resilience in the Korean spirit. It is told through the experiences of Tasan, a high-ranking official and foremost Neo-Confucian scholar at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Because of Tasan's fascination with Western learning, then synonymous with Catholicism, he is exiled to a remote province for 18 years. In banishment he meets people from various social and religious backgrounds--Buddhist monks, peasants, shamans--whom he would not otherwise have met. The events of Tasan's life are effectively used to depict the confluence of Buddhist, Neo-Confucian, Taoist, and shamanistic beliefs in traditional Korea.

A subplot involves three young sisters, the daughters of a prominent Catholic aristocrat, and affords the reader vivid glimpses into Yi-dynasty women's lives, particularly those of palace ladies, scholars' wives, tavern keepers, shamans, and slaves. In contrast to the long-held Confucian stereotype of female subservience, this story illustrates the richness of women's contribution to Korean culture and tradition.

Encounter' s detailed narrative provides a broad and informed view of nineteenth-century Korea, making it a highly useful book for courses on Korean literature and society. It will also be an engaging read for lovers of historical fiction.

Excerpt

Hahn Moo-Sook is a writer with a formidable reputation. She made her debut as an author in 1942 with the prize-winning novel Tŭngbul tŭnŭn yŏin (A Woman with a Lantern) and has been a prominent presence in Korean literary circles ever since. Her five novels, three novellas, five collections of short stories, two plays, and three collections of essays have earned her recognition as a major contributor to modern Korean literature.

In 1958 the Asia Foundation presented Hahn Moo-Sook with its Freedom Literature Award for her short story “Kamjŏngi innŭn simnyŏn,” translated as “In the Depths” in the English-language collection of her short stories under that title. In the decades since, her fellow writers have called on her to serve as director of the Korean Writers Association, president of the Korean Women Writers Association, President of the Korean Catholic Writers Association, and in 1990, president of the Korean Novelists Association. She also served for more than twenty years, from 1962 to 1985, as executive director of the Korean chapter of the International P.E.N. CIub. The larger Korean public showed its appreciation of her contributions and her accomplishments by naming her Korean Woman of the Year in 1973. In recent years, several awards have capped her distinguished career of almost half a century: in 1986 she became a life-

1. Han Moo-Sook, In the Depths (Seoul: Hwimoon Publishing Co., 1965). A second collection of her stories, in an English translation by Chung Chong-wha, appeared two years later: The Running Water Hermitage (Seoul: Moonwang Publishing Co., 1967).

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