Transnationalism in Korean Literature

Among the many forms of transnationalism in literature, this article deals with the issue of crossing or breaking down boundaries in the spatial sense. In this context, transnationalism in Korean literature refers to Korean writers going beyond the spatial environment of “Korea” and staging their works in other spaces. This space is where the activities of characters or events in a writer’s work take place and the message of the writer is conveyed. The structure of this space can become a factor that determines the content of the work. In other words, a space in a literary work is a major element that makes the very existence of the work possible.

     There are many writers in contemporary Korean literature whose works deeply engage with the expansion of space and transnational logics, and it is in fact common to find such writers. In Land, the opus magnum by the late Park Kyung-Ri who passed away in 2008, the scope of the story reaches to Manchuria during the Japanese occupation. We also see similar transnational expansion in Hwang Sok-yong’s Shim Chong or Princess Bari. The Great Jungle by Jo Jung-Rae caused controversy for fictionalizing the world of Chinese business for the sake of Korea, but it’s a bestseller that has done well in recent years. Kim Insuk’s Sydney, Standing at the Blue Ocean and The Long Road, Kim Young-ha’s Your Republic Is Calling You and Black Flower, and Kang Young-sook’s Rina all exemplify similar patterns of transnationalism in Korean literature today.

     Kim Insuk’s Sydney, Standing at the Blue Ocean deals with Korean immigrants in Australia. Revolving around one couple, the novel is a moving saga on the tenacious vitality and love of those on the boundary between Korea and Australia. The Long Road depicts the hardships and inner conflicts that three young people experience before, during, and after they cross the border from Korea to Australia. Kim Young-ha’s Black Flower is about Korean laborers who migrated to Mexico during the Japanese occupation. They do not find bright paths lined with flowers there. Kim Young-ha describes the dark, devastating situation of their lives as “black flowers.” Your Republic Is Calling You, by the same author, is a story about a North Korean spy in South Korea. Making use of the unique situation on the Korean peninsula, Kim Young-ha sheds light on the existential life within the reality of history using his characteristically unique imagination.

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