Remembering a Revolutionary: Immortality by Yi Mun-yol

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.8 Summer 2010
  • byKang Yu-jung

Yi Mun-yol’s Immortality is the story of Ahn Jung-geun, its publication marking the centennial anniversary of his death. Interestingly, Immortality starts not with Ahn Jung-geun but his father, Ahn Tae-hoon. In the chaotic years of the Donghak (Eastern Learning) rebellion, with its first ideals in decline, Ahn Tae-hoon stands up to the heretics. Unfortunately, the very people who should have supported him turn against him. The first volume of Immortality narrates the story of Ahn Tae-hoon’s long struggle against the heretics that ultimately leads to his undoing by those closest to him. This part of the story, at times, seems to receive even more attention than the cause that Ahn Jung-geun advocates.

The reason why Yi Mun-yol devotes such a substantial part of the first volume of Immortality to the philosophy and struggles of Ahn Tae-hoon is because he believes that Ahn Jung-geun was heavily influenced by his father. It is only after his father’s sudden death that Jung-geun comes in to his own. After his death, Jung-geun focuses on a straight path without any detours or hesitation with resolute willpower.

This is the focus of Yi Mun-yol’s Immortality as well. Yi Mun-yol’s subject is not the heroic actions of Ahn Jung-geun the revolutionary, but the sheer will of a human being pursuing the cause he believes in. In this light Ahn Jung-geun is depicted as a stubborn yet romantic revolutionary. There is no compromise for him. Another key element is Ahn Jung-geun’s relationship with the revolutionary Kim Gu. Armed with thorough research and a writer’s imagination to connect the dots, Yi Mun-yol paints a compelling picture of their complex relationship.

While Ahn Jung-geun has gained increased recognition as a folk hero, his legacy is too often evoked for the sake of narrative, not historical demand. In contrast, Yi Mun-yol offers new perspective amidst this flurry. It is truly this perspective that marks him for the master he is.  

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.