An Ancient City Buried Under the Desert: Lou-lan by Hyun Ki Young

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.7 Spring 2010
  • byYi Soo-hyung

The reason why Hyeon Giyeong, whose writing revisits people buffeted by the tempestuous waves of modern Korean history, has chosen “Lou-lan” for the title of his first novel in 10 years must be because of the apocalyptic imagery of the end of the world evocative of that ancient city. The author senses an apocalypse of sorts in the skies of Seoul, bustling with excitement over the 2002 Korean- Japanese World Cup. “To Hur Moo-sung, Seoul was a city rotten of greed.

That was why it seemed to him that the yellow dust of Seoul came not from a Gobi or Taklamakan, but from completely the opposite direction, the faraway Pacific, an extension of the yellow cloud that enveloped Manhattan six months ago.

A yellow desert settled over the skies of Seoul. The clouds of yellow dust turned the sun rising in the morning an ominous shade of dead blood.” The protagonist Hur Moo-sung fought for the democratization of Korea and was tortured harshly into defection, after which he returns to Korea with a degree and becomes a university professor with the help of the prosecutor who had tortured him. To him, even with the freedom won by the democratic movement of the 1980s, the neo-liberalism and globalism of the 90s mark it as an era hostile to the 80s. Drifting like “a broken radio out of wavelength with this world,” he feels that the 21st century that arrived with the destruction of New York City’s World Trade Center is yet darker and more chaotic than ever in the sense that the once stealthy fascist forces have started to move in broad daylight. Can he credit the masses filling the streets in the World Cup season of June 2002 with the same hope he did with the masses of June 1987, that turning point of Korean democracy? He cannot say. Calling himself “the living dead,” he decides to go to Jirisan (mountain), home of the partisan guerillas 50 years ago and also to his hometown. Can he start a new history on top of ruins buried in the desert? Surely the answer is not up to the protagonist of Lou-lan alone.