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FICTION

From North to South: The Third House by Lee Kyoung-ja

  • onOctober 27, 2014
  • Vol.22 Winter 2013
  • byPark Hyekyung
The Third House
2013
260pp.

The Third House starts with the journey of Sung-ok, who is a North Korean refugee settled in Seoul, visiting her father’s hometown of Port Moji in Japan. Through her journey, readers face an unfortunate family history that comes down from her grandfather, who was requisitioned to Japan, all the way to her father. The person who leads her through her journey is Inho, “the house builder,” with whom she falls in love in Seoul. Inho plays a role like a lighthouse. He carries her life out of the fetters of a painful history where everything is connected—from the Japanese colonization when her grandfather lived through the Cold War era to when her father lived—as he helps her towards the future.

Born and raised in North Korea, Sung-ok had two different fathers: her biological father, Kim Dae-gon, and the father of the people, Kim Il-sung. She grew up being thoroughly brainwashed with the idea that Kim Il-sung was the leader of the people, but her father who was discriminated against in every case for being a “returnee,” came to have a deep desire to revolt against the system. The young Sung-ok did not understand her father and thought he was an obstacle to her life.

However, as the North Korean economic condition dramatically declines, and people continuously die from famine, and as she experiences for herself extreme torment, escaping from North Korea for food several times only to be caught, she comes to understand the life of her father. Inho, an architect, is the only person who warmly embraces Sung-ok’s life, a life that has been torn into pieces because she is discriminated against as a child of a returnee in North Korea and is a poorly treated North Korean refugee living in South Korea. Inho, who thinks of her “neither as a traitor of his country nor as a commie,” wants to build for her a third house: “where all the same people live” in neither the North nor the South.