In Search of Lost Memories: Orikmaenseuti by Ch'oe Yun

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.15 Spring 2012
  • byJung Yeo-ul

To what extent can we fully remember? Is our identity really defined by what we remember of our experiences? Could it be that the true message of life is concealed in what remains in our unconscious, in what we cannot remember? Ch'oe Yun’s new novel, Orikmaenseuti, is a story about a boy who embarks on an inner journey in quest of life's answers, and, at the same time, tries to recover his suppressed memories of his birth parents. The main character is a boy who was born in Korea and later adopted by a Belgian family. He is inflicted with an ailment similar to narcolepsy, but his doctor cannot come up with a precise diagnosis or determine the cause. The boy inexplicably collapses anywhere and anytime, lying unconscious for periods of several hours to several days; during these bizarre episodes, he does not know who he is, where he is, or whether he is actually alive or dead.

Suffering from such a horrible disease, in addition to being an adoptee, the protagonist at first glance seems unlucky in life. But that is an assumption based only on the external framework of his story. Despite his difficult circumstances, he is, on the contrary, quite happy—to the point of romantically referring to his malady as “black-hole travel.” The boy is warm-hearted and cheerful enough to be able to relish his terrifying illness. At the age of 18, he reads in a Korean newspaper about the series of events that led to his adoption. As a two-year-old baby, he barely survived the severe rainfall that completely cut off his town from the outside world, while his parents perished in the flood.

When the boy turns 20, he visits Korea for the first time. He comes to realize the love of his birth parents, who, even in their dying moments, struggled mightily to save their son. His incomprehensible sickness is also perhaps due to the trauma of the tragedy; his “black-outs” might be a way of reliving the traumatic near-death circumstances in which he lost consciousness. This novel is about a boy’s moving journey into his scars from a time, which does not exist in his conscious memory, but which is stored in his unconscious.