The Abject

  • onDecember 21, 2017
  • Vol.38 Winter 2017
  • byYi Chong-Jun
Two Stories from Korea
Tr. Jennifer M. Lee and Grace Jung

My wife’s breakdown in her fragile state wasn’t over yet. The deeper frustration lay in her realization that she could no longer go back to carrying out her human decision—revenge. That was not necessarily due to Mrs. Kim’s threats or coercion. At the time, my wife had been prepared to carry out her duty as a believer and grant that man her forgiveness. She was fully aware of her motive and the merit behind her actions. To abandon that motive was no different from abandoning herself. She could not bring herself to throw it all away. At the same time, she could not abandon the “human” that existed within her by bringing herself to trust solely in the Lord’s “salvation.” The Lord’s purpose was too distant and pointless for her to do such a thing.

My wife’s heart was ruthlessly torn between God’s divine providence and the “human” self that existed within her. But she didn’t bother to give Mrs. Kim that explanation. She probably didn’t see the need for it. That explanation on humankind’s insignificance and shabby imperfection—until Mrs. Kim could ache and grieve over such limitations and weaknesses, this mindset my wife had would forever be beyond her. The reason my wife had kept her mouth shut even to me up until then had everything to do with that. The awful pain and despair within kept her from being able to open her mouth to speak.

But I was finally able to understand my wife’s sadness. Even if I hadn’t been a father who’d just lost a child, I felt that I could finally join her in her pain and live with our right to exist as insignificant and lowly humans. But even so, how would such a thing be of any help to my dear wife? Furthermore, what could I have done to lift that weight of unhappiness from her and save her from despair? Despite knowing all this about her, I continued to look after her in what little ways I could. Circling around her constantly, passively, all I did was look at my wife with pity while I suffered quietly alone. Could it be because I had taken into account Mrs. Kim’s remark that this was just another hurdle for my wife to overcome—the kind that she must overcome in order to win back life and salvation? And could this be regarded as simply my wife’s share of suffering that she needed to overcome on her own? No. Certainly not. But of course, Mrs. Kim still thought this way. And she continued to visit my wife to preach about the “Father’s” promise and perfect love. She continued attempting to restore my wife’s faith, trying to incite her with encouragements as a servant of God.

I, on the other hand, was not able to do this, for I had no outside support. I couldn’t even begin to think that my wife would be able to carry out such a thing. That’s because other than feeling sorry for her and saying useless things that would only disturb her unsound state, I had no other course of action or a plan. My wife appeared to have committed her last remaining self to a dark ultimatum. No matter what Mrs. Kim or I said to her, nothing seemed to reach her consciousness. Following that day, she completely shut the world out, closing her mouth for good. She didn’t take a single sip of water.

Ah, but how could I have even measured the depths that her sorrow had reached? My dear wife continued on in that way before finally taking her own life. In order to give up on both the nature of humankind and the providence of God, she simply cut away the root of her despair. It’s possible that the news of Kim Do-seop’s execution being carried out had somehow reached her, which prompted her final action.

As the daylight changed and February rolled through, Kim Do-seop’s execution by hanging finally took place, and the event was broadcast on the radio. Kim Do-seop’s last words to the world stirred such an unfamiliar sense of hatred in me that my whole body shook uncontrollably with rage:

“Why should I fear death now that I’m here? My soul has already been saved by God’s love and promise. Not only my spirit but a part of my body will also be reborn here on this earth, gaining new life, because I am leaving behind my eyes and heart to my brothers and sisters remaining on earth.”

His last and final wishes were stated at the execution site: “Should I have any last wishes, it would be that the people who are suffering because of me would find love and salvation through God. Through their sacrifice and pain, I am able, today, to gain new life, a new soul, but that child’s family is probably still suffering from a horrible sadness and torment. I pray both here on this earth and there in the next life for those people. Lord, I ask you to deliver my soul and the child’s soul into the next world, and with your love, please take away his family’s pain and be their crutch . . .”

Her nerves had been frayed the whole time, and it was no different on that day. That could have been it. My wife, who did nothing but stare at the ceiling all day—oblivious to whether the sun was up or down—on that particular day, she just so happened to be listening to that damned radio. She’d heard everything.

That was on February fifth, right around the time the sun began to set. And just two days later, unable to withstand it any longer, she took some pills, taking her own life. Neither to Mrs. Kim—the woman who’d looked after her all that time—nor to me, did my wife leave behind a single word of her last will and testament. 

pp. 84-87


Translated by Grace Jung
Excerpt from Two Stories from Korea.
Copyright © 2016 by MerwinAsia.
Reprinted with the permission of MerwinAsia, Portland, Maine.

Author's Profile

Yi Chong-Jun (1939–2008) produced seventeen novels, 155 short stories, and one play over the course of his career. His notable works include Your Paradise, Seopyeonje, and “The Wounded.” Nine of his works were cinematized, including Secret Sunshine, which was based on his story “The Abject.” He received the Dongin Literary Award, Yi Sang Literary Award, Lee San Literature Prize, and the Daesan Literary Award. He was also posthumously awarded the Geumgwan Order of Cultural Merit. His works have been translated into English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese.