[Web Exclusive] Interview with Hyun Ki Young: On the Forefront of Preventing State Violence

  • onSeptember 3, 2019
  • Vol.45 Autumn 2019
  • byKorean Literature Now


KLN: How do you feel about participating in the Göteborg Book Fair 2019, and what are you going to talk about?

Hyun: This is my first visit to Northern Europe. I’ve always wanted to travel to this part of the world with little sunlight and gloomy weather. At the book fair, I plan to talk about the importance of human life and the problem of thoughtless killing. In many cases, a state declares war on its people and commits a massacre. It happened before and is still happening. State violence is rampant in Africa and the Middle East. I’d like to make known the state violence that Korea suffered half a century ago, and let writers lead the way in forestalling the disastrous impact of state violence.


KLN: How do you feel about meeting international readers?

Hyun: I look forward to interacting with overseas readers and writers. Regardless of nationality, I feel like anyone with a passion for literature is a member of my family. Even in my home country, there are people who care naught for literature, and I can’t help but feel estranged from them. Even though we’re from different countries, meeting foreign readers and writers is like being reunited with my blood relatives, since we all pursue the same universal human values.


KLN: Why have you chosen ‘Steel and Flesh’ for the Göteborg Book Fair 2019? In your opinion, what social functions do writers serve?

Hyun: In the title, ‘Steel and Flesh’, steel represents weaponry, while flesh refers to the fragile human body. In other words, bullets and cannonballs rip through human flesh and claim lives. This short story is set against the backdrop of the April 3 Jeju Uprising in 1948. Seventy years ago, Korea had recently been liberated from Japanese colonial rule and was on the verge of building a new nation. The question at hand was whether to establish a unified or divided nation. In the end, the Korean peninsula was split into two. However, the people of Jeju argued against the division of the Korean peninsular into two separate states. As a result, they became subjected to immense state violence, and around 30,000 people—about 10% of the entire Jeju population at that time—lost their lives.


English subtitles translated by Helen Cho