Acclaimed novelist Park Wan-suh leaves stirring last words

Posted on : 2011-01-24 13:41 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Late novelist Park Wan-suh sought to use life experiences to bring the truth to light

Choi Jae-bong, Senior Staff Writer 


The words left behind by novelist Park Wan-suh, who passed away Saturday at the age of 80, have been stirring the public. At the entrance to the Samsung Seoul Hospital mortuary in Seoul’s Irwon neighborhood where she lay in state, mourners were met by a sign reading, “We respectfully decline condolence money. Thank you.”

The late writer’s son-in-law Kwon Oh-jeong reported her as making the atypical request, “When I die, take good care of the writers who come to visit, and do not take condolence money under any circumstances.”

“Writers have no money,” Kwon recalled her as saying.

After news became known of the sudden death Saturday morning of Park, who had been fighting illness after undergoing surgery for gall bladder cancer in October, her fellow writers and readers paid their respects amid shock and grief.

Veteran critic and Seoul National University Emeritus Professor Kim Yoon-sik said, “Some writers are wondering why it is being held as a family funeral instead of a writers’ funeral, but it really is like Park Wan-suh to decide to have a Catholic-style family funeral.”

Citizens expressed their sense of loss and shared memories of reading Park’s works through Twitter and blogs. Reader attention is focusing on Park’s books, with booksellers placing works such as last July’s prose collection “The Road Never Traveled Is More Beautiful” and the novel “Who Ate Up All the Shinga?” back on the bestseller racks.

“She was a warm and comforting person to us like a ray of sunlight in the spring, and now she has left us suddenly,” wrote a Twitter user identified by the name “ngo7979.” “It feels like losing spring.”

Park’s writing originated out of a determination to “avenge through memory.” Having experienced the tragic death of her older brother, who was caught between left-wing and right-wing forces during the war, she overcome the difficult times through a desire to testify to her painful experience.

“One day, I am going to put it into words,” she said at the time.

In one piece recalling her life as a writer, she wrote, “With other people, the wounds heal completely and they live happily as though nothing happened. I think what made me become a writer later, and what formed the framework of my literary spirit, was my stubborn and nasty temperament, never forgetting suffering unfairly or being foolishly deceived, and determined to somehow bring the truth to light.”

An approach focusing on experience is a major characteristic running through the work of Park, who said, “I do not write about things I have never experienced.”

Her book “Illusion,” which could be termed her only piece of historical fiction, was set during the period from the late Joseon era through the Korean War, and in this work also, the author sought to ensure factuality and specificity in the stories of the times she had never experienced herself by listening to her mother’s accounts.

Another element supporting Park’s writing was the many stories she heard from her accomplished storyteller mother from her childhood, as well as the “power of the story” she saw for herself from hearing them.

Her methodology in approaching fiction was to portray the everyday lives of the majority of contemporary people in a factual way, while at the same time laying bare the wounds and falsehoods hidden within. The areas where her authorial gaze focused consisted of ordinary details of life that might at first glance appear trivial or be taken for granted. Her fiction took the external form of the so-called “novel of manners,” but within it were imbued a number of weighty and fundamental issues in our lives.

While helplessly being swept along with her writing, which is free-flowing and humorous enough to generate belly-laughs, the reader understands at some point the writer’s intention of puncturing the vulgarity and empty desires of the state of the world and is gripped by a complex mixture of emotions, both thrilling and stinging. The secret behind many reader’s love of Park’s fiction is the combination of familiar subject matter with a warm message and a writing style that is natural yet zesty for the reader.

Park published the last book of her life in 2010 with “The Road Never Traveled Is More Beautiful.”

In the foreword to this book, she wrote, “I am glad to be able to put out another book” and “I am happy to still have the vigor to write.”

Now, she has left forever on a beautiful road never traveled in her lifetime.

Park is currently lying in state at Samsung Seoul Hospital. Her bier is to depart Tuesday morning for the burial ground at Yongin Catholic Cemetery.


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