By Kang Hyun-kyung
"Beyond the Division," an English novel written by Chung Ang University Professor Hur Mann-hyung, is a tragic story about doomed love.
A South Korean man falls in love with a woman from the North, knowing from the very start that their relationship won't lead to a happy ending. Their love hinges on inter-Korean relations, a factor they can't control.
The tragic romance story between a South Korean man named Pilsung and his North Korean lover Soon reminds readers of "namnam buknyeo," a term Koreans use when they compare physical appearances of men and women of the two Koreas. It says South Korean men are physically more attractive than their North Korean counterparts, and as for women, North Koreans are more attractive than southerners.
|Chung Ang University Professor Hur Mann-hyung releases an English fiction novel, "Beyond the Division." / Courtesy of Hur Mann-hyung|
Hur said the cultural belief had not affected his novella, noting he drew forbidden love as the theme of his novel from his brief encounter with a North Korean woman over a decade ago.
"I met a North Korean lady back in 2006 during my first and only trip to North Korea. She inspired me to come up with the theme," the author told The Korea Times in a recent interview. "She was a tour guide when I visited Gaeseong on a business trip. It was my day trip to the North Korean city. After a brief encounter with her, I felt my heart was wrenching because we live in separate parts of the nation and we can't meet again. She became a protagonist of my fiction novel."
In "Beyond the Division," Pilsung falls in love with North Korean worker Soon when they meet at their workplace in the Gaeseong Industrial Complex. Pilsung works for a sewing company owned by his female boss and it has a manufacturing line in the North. Soon is one of the North Korean workers there. It is love at first sight and their feelings are mutual.
Their love ends tragically following the closure of the joint inter-Korean complex as a result of escalating tensions between the two Koreas. The North Korean woman dies after risking her life in crossing the river to meet her South Korean lover.
Hur, author of three short Korean novels, said "Beyond the Division" is the literary outcome of his desolate life in Ames, Iowa, in 2017 during his sabbatical leave.
He tried to find something he could fully focus on to relieve the loneliness, and it became a novella. His book was published by London-based Austin Macauley Publishers.
The tragic romance novel is based on his serialized stories about the Gaeseong Industrial Complex (GIC) published in Weekly Donga in 2013.
The Park Geun-hye government was determined to shut down the GIC as inter-Korean relations had gone from bad to worse. The Park government said North Korean workers' wages were diverted to the North Korean regime's development of weapons of mass destruction, including missiles and nuclear bombs.
|"Beyond the Division" published by Austin Macauley Publishers|
Hur said the closure of the GIC saddened him.
"I regretted the decision because I felt the GIC was the first kind of joint space for unification. North and South Koreans worked together there and spent time together. It was a space where South and North Koreans might have fallen in love while working together," he said.
The author likened the shutdown of the GIC to a second division of the two Koreas, saying there might have been some lovers who were forced to break up because of it.
Hur expressed hope to reach out to global readers through his English novel.
"As a public administration professor, I wrote several academic papers. Through my personal experiences, I found writing in English gives Korean authors a lot of opportunities. I was invited to events held overseas after publishing English papers," he said.
He said he plans to publish more English novels with international themes such as division of the two Koreas or international adoption that can appeal to global readers.