Remembering Heartache: The Valley of Parting by Lim Chulwoo

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.10 Winter 2010
  • byYi Soo-hyung
The Valley of Parting

The Valley of Parting, Lim Chulwoo’s first novel in six years, takes its name from Byeoreogok Station, a flag stop in the hills of Gangwon-do (province). Starting with “Autumn,” followed by “Winter,” “Summer,” and “Spring,” the four chapters of The Valley of Parting are narrated, respectively, by Jeong Dong-su, a young would-be-poet and railway conductor who guards a secret about his father; Mr. Shin, a conductor facing retirement but who is haunted by an old mistake that caused a train accident; Jeon Sun-rye, who cannot forget her traumatic experience as a sex slave to Japanese soldiers; and Yang Sun-ji, consumed by guilt because she may have unwittingly identified and caused the death of a deserter during the war when she was a child.

The meaning of the title, The Valley of Parting, becomes clear upon finishing the book. Parting is such a sad, painful experience that it is only natural to wish to avoid it; but then again, who can truly be free of such memories? On the contrary, it may be that the valley of parting is what helps us hang onto our sanity. How could we possibly separate such an integral part of ourselves from our lives? To quote the author, “Nobody tries to remember the past, or gives a second thought to it in this world of disposable sensations, disposable images, disposable relationships. It seems, almost, that we wish we could dispose of our own lives as easily. In that case, this novel is about those whose time is arrested in the past, or those who refuse to forget.” An observation that nicely sums up the author’s insight into the importance that each of our valleys holds for us.