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Star novelist's 'Harbin' on Korean independence fighter becomes bestseller

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Veteran author Kim Hoon speaks during a press conference held for the release of his new book,
Veteran author Kim Hoon speaks during a press conference held for the release of his new book, "Harbin," in Seoul's Mapo District, Aug. 3. Yonhap

By Park Han-sol

Kim Hoon's latest book, "Harbin," on independence fighter Ahn Jung-geun (1879-1910), has become a new bestseller in major local online bookstores.

Published on Aug. 3 ahead of the 77th anniversary of Liberation Day on Aug. 15, the novel has climbed to the top of the bestseller lists of both YES24 and Kyobo Books for the first week of August.

"Harbin" is a compact 308-page story that focuses on a short time period before and after the fateful encounter between Ahn and Hirobumi Ito, the four-time prime minister of Japan and the first resident-general of Korea.

It was Oct. 26, 1909, a year before Korea was annexed by the Japanese Empire, when the activist pulled the trigger on Ito upon his arrival in Harbin, Manchuria. After the assassination, Ahn was arrested on the spot and sent to Lushun Prison, where he spent the final days of his life before being sentenced to death the following year.

The story of the country's arguably most recognizable independence fighter to date has been a topic revisited by many other writers in the past. But Kim, who has award-winning historical novels such as "Song of the Sword" and "Namhansanseong" under his belt, has taken a different approach in painting a portrait of the famed figure.

Instead of confining Ahn to the narrow context of heroism and nationalistic patriotism during the 1910-45 Japanese colonial era, the 74-year-old novelist hoped to "describe the activist's youthful spirit and vitality ― as if the young man is alive right next to you," he noted during a press conference in Seoul earlier this month.

Although the project had lingered in the novelist's head for at least five decades, since he was struck by Ahn's interrogation reports, which he came across during his university days, he put it off for years due to its dauntingly complex layers and the amount of research required. It was only at the beginning of this year that he finally picked up his pen to finish the book.

In the end, "Harbin" is a literary ode to "human Ahn Jung-geun," who was torn between his status as a young breadwinner with religious faith surrounded by mixed feelings of doubts and zeal as well as his wish to contribute to bringing peace in the East Asian region. The latter, the author said, is a message that should resonate even more strongly today.

Park Han-sol

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