Love Conquers All: My Sister, Mongsil by Kwon Jeong Saeng

  • onNovember 3, 2014
  • Vol.16 Summer 2012
  • byYoon So-hee
My Sister, Mongsil

My Sister, Mongsil is set in the tumult and tragedy of modern Korean history, illustrating the vivid effects on individual lives. In the midst of such great historical storms, the most pressing issue for the protagonist Mongsil is poverty. As her family is torn apart by poverty and put together again, Mongsil holds onto her faith in love and hope and keeps her spirits high despite the brutal times.

Mongsil is the daughter of a yumin, also known as “Japanese pauper,” who returned to Korea after liberation from Japanese occupation, and was considered the lowest of the low at the time. The hunger is so excruciating that Mongsil has to search for a new father to replace the first who went away to earn money. The poverty of the times is palpable in Mongsil’s mother, the Lady from Miryang, and her betrayal of Mongsil’s father. No longer able to endure the hunger and poverty, Lady Miryang marries another man and takes Mongsil along with her. Things seem to be looking up for Mongsil in her new life with her stepfather, but he starts to abuse her after the birth of her half-brother. Disgruntled with Mongsil in their midst, her stepfather gets into a fight with her mother after Mongsil’s father shows up, and the result is violence. In a struggle with her stepfather, Mongsil’s leg gets broken.

Mongsil escapes from the abuse and seeks shelter at her father’s house. Her father remarries a woman from Bukchon, creating another new family for Mongsil. The lady from Bukchon is affectionate and warm, but leaves Mongsil with a half-brother, Nannam, to look after during the war. Mongsil, only a girl of 10, finds herself responsible for all household affairs as well as raising her little brother. She lives a difficult life that sometimes forces her to beg in the streets, but she muddles through and matures without once blaming her misery on anyone. She silently bears the wounds of war, abuse, and a stolen childhood in stride.

The late author Kwon Jeong Saeng once said that his books are widely read among various age groups because he chose to write about the trials and tribulations that all Koreans have experienced. He believed that stories of others in pain would comfort those in pain and even give them hope. Even if readers haven’t experienced the same grief as Mongsil, there may come a moment of consolation when the reader projects their own private sorrows onto hers. At that moment, Mongsil becomes the reader.

Kwon Jeong Saeng’s stories are praised for promoting the value of life and sacrifice, and My Sister, Mongsil is the perfect manifestation of his ideals. An unparalleled masterpiece in Korean children’s literature, My Sister, Mongsil has sold over 400,000 copies since the publication of the revised edition in 2000. Mongsil has become a quintessential female protagonist in Korean children’s literature.