Rivers of a Life: Sept méandres pour une île by Yi In-seong

  • onNovember 15, 2014
  • Vol.24 Summer 2014
  • byJean Bellemin-Noël
Sept méandres pour une île
Tr. Choi Ae-young


The title of this book, Sept méandres pour une île (An Island at the Mouth of the River), both in Korean and French, brings to mind that time and place where the river of life dips into the sea of infinite whose ultimate horizon is death. The alluvium-rich island denotes an ever-evolving life. After the river completes several sequences of exemplary loops and is on the brink of fleeting fullness, it looks like a vacillating “I” that is a human being, who is gradually taking possession of his “me” that is an island. As a fluid narrator, he fights to become a real person not only as a living being but also as a character and writer.

The seven tales recount various stages in a life not unlike that of our time and the “twists and turns” that characterize its important seasons. The original Korean narrows these seven periods down to three sections: the first four are entitled “A Dry River Bed,” the fifth is “Island in an Estuary,” and the last two evoke “Sea Waves at a River Outlet.” The beginning therefore depicts a stage that could be summed up into the word youth and at the other extreme a representation of the future, both as an experimental movie and an imaginary autobiographical short story. In between the two, is a pivotal experience imprinted with eroticism, where it is hard to determine whether the masks are falling off or are being set into place.

Yi In-seong is an intrepid writer. He is always exploring new ways to awaken the senses of the world, nature, men, souls, day-to-day realities and those that exist in the imagination, or maybe even in dreams. He is as much a poet as a novelist, as much a philosopher as a fiction writer, but he never comes across as bossy. He seems to you to be a fraternal writer, and one can sense his eagerness to narrate his writings face to face, both to watch for your reaction and to convey his confidence in the power of writing. He is a generous and manifold personality.

The ensuing product is therefore rich and hence enriching, prompting you to take the step towards wholehearted collaboration. The author comes forward less as a person than as a piece of writing authored by a genuine writer who is striving towards greater awareness of his journey as a guide or pioneer looking to share his experience with the world. When you truly become immersed in the river of Yi’s book and emerge from its glistening waters, you will feel the sheer pleasure of joining the narrator as he mounts a phoenix, which may even drop you off on the island of all hopes.


by Jean Bellemin-Noël
Professor of French Literature,
University of Paris 8