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FICTION

Weather the Daily Squalor: River No Return by Kim Hoon

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.7 Spring 2010
  • byLee Kyungjae
River No Return
2009
318pp.

Kim Hoon is the bestselling author of the historical trilogy Song of the SwordSong of Strings, and Fortress on Mt. Namhan. His latest novel, River No Return, paints a candid portrait of the human world in all its squalor, here and now. As the title River No Return (Don’t Cross the River, My Love) indicates, Kim Hoon’s message is to stick it out in the bad old world, and not try to leave it. Jang Cheol-su is a character who does just that. Jang lives in a world of news articles and endless facts.At the same time Hue’s world is made up entirely of brief adverbs after she comes to the shores of Hae-mang as a bride from Vietnam. Jang’s sense of morality is so strong he sells one of his kidneys for Hue. Moon Jeong-su, obsessed with facts, No Mok-hee, who listens to the pillow talk of the world of facts that will never be written into articles, and the orthodox humanist Taiwei, who seems to be the author’s alter ego, are the characters placed alongside Jang Cheol-su.

The tools Kim Hoon uses to examine humanity are not glasses or a telescope, but rather a magnifying glass or a microscope. To the author, humanity and society can be broken down into an infinite number of factors. Just as looking at a human being through a magnifying glass or a microscope will only yield dead skin cells or a fuzz of hair, the author regards anything else in life besides raw instinct to be false. The consistent comparison of the Vietnamese Hue to an animal is also an example of naturalization, the struggle for survival being divorced from its social context. In the same vein, language may also be a mere ritual far removed from the truth, and just another form of falsehood. In the same way, Moon Jeong-su can never write up any of the stories he goes to cover in Hae-mang. With River No Return, Kim Hoon is saying that it is our lives here and now that are our hope, and not some concept, ideology, or historical saga. 

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.