Life and Death in Duet: The Forest of My Young Days by Kim Hoon

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.11 Spring 2011
  • byChoi Jaebong
The Forest of My Young Days


Life and death co-exist in Kim Hoon’s novel The Forest of My Young Days. The female protagonist Jo Yunjoo is an artist whose job is to paint miniature plants and trees in a civilian-restricted arboretum. She must paint the seasonal fauna of the arboretum as close to its original form as possible. As the head of her department notes, the work entails “depicting in detail the present reality of each individual life.”

Jo also agrees to participate in a project in a neighboring military camp where an excavation of human remains from the Korean War is underway. Thus, she finds herself documenting the present vitality of life while simultaneously recording traces of death from the past.

While Jo Yunjoo is transferring life and death onto her canvas, her father, too, is transitioning from life to death. While working as a civil servant in the county office, he is accused of accepting a bribe and thrown in jail. After being released from prison, Mr. Jo’s health rapidly declines as he slowly makes his march towards death. The father departs with two phrases to his only daughter when she visits him for the last time: “It’s okay,” and “I’m sorry.” It is not clear what exactly is okay about the situation or what he feels sorry for, but his daughter feels that, “Those few words were not lacking in summing up a life.”

If the father substitutes death in Kim’s novel, the love that blossoms between the young Yunjoo and First Lieutenant Kim Minsoo represents the palpitations of life. In this elegant novel, the two lovers’ relationship progresses in a composed and solemn manner as if their romance has been filtered through the eyes of the elderly.

Author's Profile

Kim Hoon is the author of eight novels, one short story collection, and an extensive range of non-fiction. He received the Dongin Literary Award in 2001 for his breakthrough historical novel Song of the Sword, which was followed by many other honors, including the Daesan Literary Award. His books have been translated into Chinese, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish.