Religion Is the Final Destination: A Wanderer by Jeong Chan

  • onOctober 26, 2014
  • Vol.16 Summer 2012
  • byKang Yu-jung
A Wanderer

In A Wanderer, two time zones co-exist. One is the period of the Crusades and the other is the present. Author Jeong Chan refers to these two different times zones as the hour of reincarnation. Here, reincarnation is not a religious concept but is instead a secret part of our lives. What this means is that our present-day life is separated into two components. That is, life from a different space and different time era is one’s former life; it indicates that from a historical point of view an independent life of its own is altogether impossible. In other words, we are connected in some way or other to the continuity of history and are linked to lives in a different dimension. Therefore, if there is a horrific event happening in Iran, for example, that too is part of one’s life.

Jeong Chan has recreated the fictitious life of Jesus in a number of his novels. For Chan, religion is not an object of blind faith but a driving force to search for the existential essence of life. That is the reason why readers will encounter Islam and shamanism in addition to Christianity in his books. Religion is the final destination for those with fundamental questions about life. The questions will be the same no matter what religion it is. Why is life so painful? What is the true purpose of pain in life?

That is the reason why the protagonist of A Wanderer is headed to the Middle East, a place of intense conflict. There, he witnesses a massacre of an entire family and numerous amputations. However, when his mother appears, a more serious war takes place deep inside himself; that his mother shows up signifies a contradiction. A mother is someone who is there for you, no matter what, and so it is contradictory to say that she appeared. But for the protagonist, his mother is someone who suddenly came from nowhere. His father had told him that she passed away long ago; for Chan, his mother had been a non-existent person.

After his mother shows up, she confesses that she had no choice but to leave him because she had become possessed and became a shaman, and therefore could no longer be a mother. At this point the protagonist begins to ask questions about life. His mother, a shaman, and his half-sister, who also became a shaman, shake his very foundation to its core.

In addition to meeting his shaman mother, the protagonist encounters a man who professes to have known him in their previous lives. This man tells him that they had been a priest and a scribe in Egypt long ago during the Crusades. The stories of past lives is something he finds hard to believe but equally difficult to dismiss; this compels him to acknowledge his mother, which leads him to pose questions having to do with shamanism. For example, meeting Ibrahim in this life could be a kind of a miracle or some kind of a sign. It is entirely up to him whether to view it as a transcendental occurrence or embrace it as a mystery of life. It is also up to the reader to decide which one it is.

As Chan notes, it is only after we have departed from a boundary prescribed in the present life and begin reflecting on history and the world that we become wanderers. Here, that which we viewed as a place of permanence is only a part of life, and when we comprehend what that entails, then we will be able to see the shallowness of life. Perhaps here lies the reason why the author called Jesus a wanderer, in that he tried his utmost to understand the mystery of life. Meanwhile, isn’t a novel like a religion or an icon through which one can exhaustively study life? In a world where vapid fiction runs rampant, Jeong Chan’s novel is a weighty and meaningful read. For the author, a novel is not a simple description of life but a meditation on life. 

Author's Profile

Jeong Chan is a novelist. Jung debuted with the publication of a novella in the magazine World of Language, in 1983. His story collections include The River of MemoryThe Road of Comfort, and Die in Venice. His novels include Evening of the WorldGolden LadderUnder the Broom TreeWilderness, and A Wanderer. He has won many literary awards, including the Dongin Literary Award.