Lee Ho-cheol is one of the authors who helps readers, non-Koreans in particular, understand what is currently taking place in the two Koreas, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea where he lived until he passed away.
Facts are said to be “an obstinate thing,” and the sad facts of the split of the Korean people that has lasted more than half a century may be best explained by those who know, not by hearsay, what has been happening in the country since the end of the Second World War and the liberation of Korea from Japanese rule.
Apart from his gift as a prose writer, Lee knew the history of his country from experience. His experience being as hard and agonizing as the experience of many of his compatriots of the same age and social status. When the war between the North and the South began, Lee was taken away from his high school and mobilized in the North Korean army. And a few months later he, a youth of no more than eighteen, was imprisoned by the Southerners.
His stories, like “Panmunjom” or “The Deputy Mayor Won't Take Up His Post,” or, in particular, “Separated Family, Divided Nation – A Lamentation,” as well as his most ambitious novel Southerners, Northerners, are written from personal experience, of which Lee writes in his preface to the Russian translation of Southerners, Northerners: “Both the story ‘Mollusc’ published in 1956 and the novel that it has a lot in common with, were written on the basis of my personal impressions, as I was the participant and the witness of the events described in those works.”
In his prose works, both novels and stories, by portraying the calamity of national division that extends well beyond the three-year Korean War, Lee makes an attempt to solve many issues that still seem unsolvable, to answer the “damned questions” of Korea in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Why is the peninsula still, after half a century, a “hot spot?” What should be ...