Over There Across the River: The Republic of Uzupis by Haïlji

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.5 Autumn 2009
  • byLee Yeong-gyeong
The Republic of Uzupis

This is the tenth novel of Haïlji, a novelist who has expressed the devilish nature of man and the absurdity of the world through his unique form of narrative experimentation since coming on the literary scene in 1990 with The Road to the Race Track.

Through a tale of a man who wanders in search of an imaginary country, Haïlji deals with issues of truth and fiction, time and space, and memory in a narrative in which reality and fantasy and the past and present are mixed up.

A middle-aged Asian man named Hal is looking for Lithuania in order to go to his homeland, the Republic of Uzupis, which recently gained its independence after being occupied by a neighboring country. His purpose is to bury his father’s ashes in his hometown. However, the journey is not without obstacles. Many deny the existence of the Republic of Uzupis, and Hal often finds himself unable to communicate because few understand English. Although he finds someone who speaks the language of Uzupis, not only the proof of the republic’s existence, but also another obstacle stands in his way just as he is about to approach the true Uzupis. The riddle of Uzupis, which once seemed like it would never be solved, is slowly unraveled as Hal goes to a village of Uzupis nomads. There, as he observes the past, present, and future repeat and overlap, he comes to understand that Uzupis does not exist in reality but in fact only in people’s memory.

Uzupis, which means “over there across the river” in Lithuanian, is a world of nirvana not found in reality. This place that transcends time and space is like the origin of existence that can never be reached.

The Republic of Uzupis of this story, which calls to mind a Mobius strip with no beginning or end, actually shares its name with an artists’ village in Lithuania's capital, Vilnius. And Haïlji is in fact the Korean ambassador to this village. In this sense, the novel can also be read as the journey of a wandering writer in search of the origin of art.