A Classic Work Reviving History: The House with the Sunken Courtyard by Kim Won Il

  • onNovember 9, 2014
  • Vol.7 Spring 2010
  • byMen Xiaowei
The House with the Sunken Courtyard
Tr. Kim Taicheng

The House with the Sunken Courtyard by Kim Won Il, published in 2009 by the China Social Sciences Press, is a work that deftly reveals the social realities of Korea in the wake of the Korean War, providing readers with an opportunity to learn about the history and realities of Korea. The wounds and brutal reality resulting from the war are vividly revived through a look into the daily lives of refugees after the war.

The Korean War, which broke out on the Korean peninsula in 1950, had a deep impact on Korean society, as well as a direct impact on Chinese society, and has left people with vivid memories. The House with the Sunken Courtyard, with its adroit, true-to-life depiction of the social realities of Korea after the war, is a major work representing the Korean War novels that serve as a window through which Chinese readers may learn of the recent history.

China and Korea have geological proximity, and many other things in common including a far-reaching history of cultural exchanges. The recent rush of cultural exchanges between the two countries has provided opportunities for progress for both countries. Knowledge of the past is vital in understanding the present and anticipating the future. The House with the Sunken Courtyard, presents readers with a vivid depiction of a horrific history. It shows the grave impact of the war on Korean society and its people, and provides a valuable opportunity to understand the history and realities of Korea.

As a war novel, The House with the Sunken Courtyard shows a cross section of Korean society after the war, by portraying typical figures in a typical environment through a look into the everyday life of refugees after the war, instead of explicit descriptions of bloody warfare. The book depicts a large front yard with a deep dent in the ground; a tiny room in which a refugee family lives, with the father missing since the outbreak of the war; a family of a disabled veteran, wounded in war; another family, who comes down to the southernmost part of Korea to find a way to survive; and a wealthy family who owns a large tile-roofed house sitting atop five stone steps. The vast yard shared by the wealthy and the poor refugees reveals the typical but complicated aspects of Korean society at the time with a cast of 20 people from different backgrounds and occupations, including a wealthy capitalist, a disabled veteran, a housewife, a merchant, a revolutionary, and a newspaper boy.

Through a boy’s unique point of view, the novel describes in minute detail the miserable and impoverished lives of refugees after the war. The House with the Sunken Courtyard, autobiographical in nature, resonates with readers with its objective depiction of brutal reality, portraying in a lyrical way the wounds of the war through the perspective and experiences of the young, yet innocent boy, who had to give up his education and become a newspaper boy under the pressures of reality.

The style of realism and captivating narration employed in the novel reveal the compassion in the heart of the author, and his thoughts on issues common to mankind, such as war and survival.

In this lies the reason we seek to introduce to readers this classic work reviving history. 



 * Men Xiaowei is editor of China Social Sciences Press.

Author's Profile

Kim Won Il has written extensively on the Korean War. This is related to the fact that his father defected to North Korea during the war. Kim was a senior in high school when the war started and broke his family apart, an experience that was to haunt him throughout his life and prompt him to write about the war and its aftermath for the greater part of his career. His novels include SunsetWind and River, Winter ValleyA House with the Sunken CourtyardEvergreenThe Way to Auraji, and The Rite of Fire. He is the recipient of numerous awards including the Hanguk Ilbo Literary Award, the Yi Sang Literary Award, and the Hwang Sun-won Literary Award.