Notorious Cop Revisited: Ginger by Chun Woon-young

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.12 Summer 2011
  • byShin Junebong

The novelist Chun Woon-young is known for works that are based on extensive research. Her novels, which tell stories new to the Korean novel, are also reminiscent of a documentary film. Her stories make a strong impact with material such as a woman who is a tattoo artist and scenes about an abattoir where innocent animals are being slaughtered for human consumption.

Ginger is her first full-length novel in six years. It is about a policeman who was notorious for ruthlessly torturing anti-government detainees during the authoritarian era of the 1980s. It goes without saying that the policeman is an actual person. When democracy was established in Korea, the policeman, who was known for his crimes of torture, no longer had a niche for himself. He was finally captured after about 10 years in hiding, and then served a prison term. However, after his release from prison, ironically, he became a protestant minister.

The novel does not delve into the most recent events of the policeman’s life. Instead, the book focuses on the time period of his escape and disappearance, when his crimes became known in the late 1980s. In the beginning, he was a young man with a strong sense of justice. But unable to overcome the pressure placed on him in the historical framework of Korea, he turns into a man who fails to recognize that his “acts of conviction” are in fact evil.

In contrast to the policeman’s turn to evil, his daughter is a symbol for penance. When her father’s evildoing is revealed to the whole world, his daughter, who has just entered college, drops out and trains to become a hairdresser like her mother. From the perspective of the policeman father, the downfall of his daughter is punishment for his own sins.

The conflict of the evil and repentant worlds comes to the forefront when the father goes into hiding in the secret attic attached to his daughter’s beauty salon. The novel alternates between the father and the daughter as narrator, and vividly delineates the struggles that are extant in the two worlds. The policeman’s past deeds are all too well known in Korea. Instead of drawing a realistic picture of his actions, the author has made a great effort to depict the psychological development of characters that grow amidst their struggles. 

Author's Profile

Chun Woon-young is a novelist. Born in 1971, she made her debut in 2000 when her short story “The Needle” won the Dong-A Ilbo New Writers Contest. She is the author of the short story collections The NeedleHow She Uses Her TearsMyoungrangAs You Know, Mother; and the novels Farewell to the Circus and Ginger. She received the Arts Award of the Year.