A Classic War Novel as Relevant as Ever: The Rainy Spell by Yun Heunggil

  • onNovember 3, 2014
  • Vol.12 Summer 2011
  • byYi Soo-hyung
The Rainy Spell
Tr. Suh Ji-Moon

“The rain that began the day after the harvest of peas continued for days,” begins The Rainy Spell, a novel written by Yun Heunggil. It ends with the words, “It was a very tedious spell.” In other words, the novel begins and ends with the same rainy spell. The story unfolds through the narration of a young boy, about 10 years of age. The torchlight of the partisans, which the narrator thinks of as a game of fire by adults, disappears as the rainy spell begins, and there are rumors of war. The major conf lict in the novel centers around the relationship between the boy’s maternal and paternal grandmothers, who live together in the same house.

The boy’s maternal uncle, who enters the war as a platoon commander in the South Korean army around the time the rainy spell begins, dies in battle, and it is implied that the boy’s paternal uncle, who becomes a North Korean partisan, dies as well. In light of the fact that the conflict between the two grandmothers begins with the death notice of the boy’s maternal uncle, it can be conjectured that the “rainy spell” refers to the tedious conflict between the two. In this respect, the novel focuses on the theme of maternal love, although it hints at the ideological conflict between the left and the right by dealing with the conf lict between two mothers, one with a son serving in the South Korean army, and the other with a son who has become a North Korean partisan. This is evident in the fact that the most memorable scenes in the novel include the one in which the boy’s maternal grandmother, who has lost her son, caresses the boy while thinking about her son, and the one in which the boy’s paternal grandmother prepares food for a feast and keeps the lamp burning all night, waiting for her partisan son to come home.

The boy’s two grandmothers reconcile with each other on the day that the partisan son was expected to come home; on that day, a big snake appears and the boy’s paternal grandmother loses consciousness due to shock, and the other grandmother leads the snake away, which leads to reconciliation. The reconciliation occurs despite the different ideologies. “You took it upon yourself to do something that I should have done myself. It must have been difficult,” the paternal grandmother says. The reconciliation was possible because the maternal grandmother played the role of mother for the paternal grandmother’s son, or in other words, because the two formed a bond of sympathy in their shared maternal love.

Although the major conf lict in The Rainy Spell is between the boy’s two grandmothers, another conf lict exists between the boy and reality. The conflict is depicted through the incident in which the boy gives in to the enticement of a man who says he is a friend of the boy’s uncle, and says he’ll give the boy chocolate if the boy tells him the whereabouts of his uncle. As a result, the boy’s father is taken to the police station, and the boy is shunned by his grandmother. The boy grows up as he experiences a sense of guilt in his conflict with the reality of the times, and comes to rethink his relationship with a reality that betrays him.

To the writers of Yun’s generation who experienced the Korean War in their childhood, war is something of a riddle that follows them around without revealing its true identity. The riddle does not pertain only to the author’s generation, but to Korean society as a whole, which has never been free from the division of the nation since the ceasefire in 1953. The conflict and discord caused by the war are as intense as the war itself, and have lasted much longer than the actual war. In light of this, The Rainy Spell is not to be regarded only as a novel about something that took place in the past, but as one that deals with the reality of the division that existed in the 1970s, when the novel was written, and continues to exist today. 



1. 長雨
Yun Heunggil, 東京新聞出版局, 1979
The Rainy Spell And Other Korean Stories
Yun Heunggil, et al. Onyx Press, 1983
Yun Heunggil, Bokförlaget Tranan, 1980
2. La Mousson
Yun Heunggil, Autres Temps, 2004
3. The Rainy Spell
Yun Heunggil, Jimoondang Pub, 2002
4. Die kleine Schamanin
Yun Heunggil, Marino Verlag, 1998
5. Lluvias
Yun Heunggil, Ediciones del Ermitaño, 2007

Author's Profile

Yun Heunggil is a novelist and professor of creative writing at Hanseo University. His representative works include The Rainy Spell, Armband, and The Man Who Was Left as Nine Pairs of Shoes. He is the recipient of numerous awards (the Korean Literature Writers Award, the Korea Creative Literature Award, the Hyundae Literary Award, the 21st Century Literature Award, and the Daesan Literary Award), and his works have appeared in English, French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Chinese, and other languages.