Living on the Edge: The Night is Singing by Kim Yeonsu

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.2 Winter 2008
  • byLee Hak-young
The Night is Singing

Twenty-first century Korean readers are probably unfamiliar with 1930s Eastern Manchuria. Since Eastern Manchuria has been far from the minds of contemporary Koreans, both in time and distance, not many authors have shown interest in using it as a background for their work. Kim Yeon-su infused life into Eastern Manchuria by using it as a literary stage to narrate, in particular, the tragic lives of young people who were neglected, forgotten, and hidden on the edge. Though the setting is situated under particular historic conditions, it is precisely because of these conditions that we are able to contemplate the universal, fundamental themes of identity and violence. In the beginning of the 1930s, Japan founded the puppet state of Manchukuo in Eastern Manchuria, and the people of Joseon (Korea) living there were marginalized. The Japanese considered them to be either communist guerrillas or independence activists, while the Chinese thought them to be spies for Japan. Of course, such chaos created conflict among the Joseon people, even within the sense of their individual identities. For the young people of Joseon, the background in which objectivism had collapsed created a dark world where they could not trust even themselves.

Kim Hae-yeon, the hero of this novel, falls into the world of darkness in an instant. In the beginning, he is a survey engineer working for the Japanese-run railway company. He is dispatched to Manchukuo where he falls in love with Jung-hee, a school music teacher, but his girlfriend kills herself because of her involvement with the Chinese communists. The moment Hae-yeon finds out, he is cast out into the world of night. Wandering through the darkness, he realizes that this is a cruel place where love and friendship are not possible and variant lifestyles, including the life styles of the youth, are not accepted. Hae-yeon gets first-hand experience of a tragic and absurd-like drama. Because of uncertainty about their identity, the Joseon communists had to turn the barrels of their guns orginally aimed at their enemies, towards their own comrades.

The author vividly depicts the vague clamor of ceaseless gunfire and the young people who become degraded into trivial beings. These men were marginalized, but they believed in the possibility of change. Their voices became songs of proof of that existence. 

Author's Profile

Kim Yeonsu is a novelist. Kim debuted in 1993 by publishing a poem in Writer’s World. He published the novels Walking While Pointing to the MaskGoodbye Mr. Yi Sang, Route 7The Night Is Singing, and Wonderboy and the short story collections I Am a Ghost WriterTwenty, and World's End Girlfriend. Kim has received a number of literary awards, including the Daesan Literary Award and Yi Sang Literary Award.