Art and the Nomadic Life: Lithuanian Woman by Yi Mun-yol

  • onOctober 23, 2014
  • Vol.15 Spring 2012
  • byPark Sungchang
Lithuanian Woman

Novelist Yi Mun-yol is one of Korea’s most famous and most widely translated writers. His latest work, Lithuanian Woman, explores the meaning of art itself. In his previous works such as The Poet and The Golden Phoenix, Yi already raised the questions, what is art and what is its role in contemporary society? Widely regarded as one of his masterpieces, The Poet features the iconic Korean artist and wandering poet Kim Satgat in a probing examination of the relationship between art and power.

In Lithuanian Woman, Yi’s latest novel, the author focuses on the relationship between art and the nomadic life. Once a master of portraying ideological and nationalistic issues that wielded great influence over Korean lives in the 20th century, Yi now suggests the modern nomad pursuing an alternative way of life as the new role model. The author stresses that basing one’s identity on ethnicity or nationality is an outdated notion in today’s globalized world, as is using skin color, ethnicity, location, or peer groups as a reference for pigeonholing people. This kind of attitude can be particularly damaging to the freedom of the artist or the universality of an artwork.

Lithuanian Woman tells the love story of a woman of multicultural heritage and an older Korean man. The couple fail to overcome the cultural differences arising from their distinct heritages, but share an artistic camaraderie in their common struggle to create beauty. Born to a Lithuanian mother and a Korean father, the heroine is raised in Korea and educated in the U.S. How brutal is it to confine her life and art to an either/or identity based on nationality? A modern nomad who defies such conformity, she devotes herself to her calling as a musical director. 

Author's Profile

Yi Mun-yol was born in 1948. He made his debut as a writer in 1977. Yi’s works were enriched by the classics of East Asia that he had naturally become familiar with during his childhood and the Western literature that he had voraciously devoured in his young adulthood. In The Son of Man, Yi questioned the relationship between man and god; in A Portrait of Youthful Days, he portrayed the struggle and anguish of his youth. The Golden Phoenix was an exploration of the ontological meaning of art using calligraphy, a traditional art form in Korea. Yi also has consistently published works that are critical to the nature of political power. Our Twisted Hero is an allegorical depiction of the mechanism of how political power operates. Homo Executants portrays the process through which political ideology suffocates humanity. Aside from these, his works include Hail to the EmperorThe Age of HeroesChoice and Immortality. The recipient of Korea’s highest literary prizes, Yi has been published in over 20 countries including the U.S., France, Great Britain and Germany; over 60 titles of his translated works are available.