- Le chant des cordes (Song of Strings)
Tr. Han Yumi and Hervé Péjaudier 2016304pp.
Here is a book brimming with boundless energy, conjuring up the elements in all their vitality: wind, water, earth, and fire; the rivers and seas, the mountains, trees, and grass. It speaks of life and death over the centuries and at the heart of sixth-century Korea, of raging conflicts and the desire for peace. Death is dispensed by iron, collected and shaped by Yaro the blacksmith with the help of his son Yajeok. Life is the sound of the zither, an endlessly repeating resonance that requires the participation of the heart and not just the body, as continuously practiced by Ureuk, the master of music.
The old king of Gaya is dying. As custom dictates, thirty chosen ones, consisting of courtiers and artisans, village chiefs and peasants, mothers and favorites, will be buried alive with the monarch. His corpse isn’t the only thing rotting: the whole kingdom is in a state of decay, ravaged by war and strewn with decomposing bodies. Sometimes entire battles come to an end simply because all the combatants have been exterminated. Nobody wins, not Goguryeo in the north, nor Baekje in the southwest, nor Shilla in the southeast—even if the last of these is ultimately destined to prevail.
Ara, favorite of the dying king, makes a nighttime escape to avoid her cruel fate. The guards believe that this gross breach of the law will cause terrible disorder in the world, a state of chaos reaching even into heaven. It is vitally important that she be recaptured, and so all the king’s soldiers set out to pursue her. In the meantime, the funeral master is clear: the ritual must be carried out urgently, and most importantly without any screaming or crying. If necessary, the women and children will be gagged and, as a last resort, their throats cut from behind. But the honor bestowed on those buried alive, who must enter their tomb just before the lowering of the royal coffin, appears to fall far short of restoring the harmony that was so jeopardized by the favorite’s betrayal. Human laws, however strict, are powerless in the face of widespread death and decay.