[Web Exclusive] Interview with Cho Hae-jin: Are We Not Refugees?

  • onSeptember 1, 2019
  • byKorean Literature Now


KLN: How do you feel about participating in the Göteborg Book Fair 2019?

Cho: This year marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and the three Scandinavian countries. And as part of the celebration, Korea has been invited as the Guest of Honor to the Göteborg Book Fair 2019. It’s a great honor and pleasure for me to participate in this national event with other Korean writers whom I’ve always admired. My discussion will focus on refugees and humanism. I think I’ve been given this topic because one of my novels features a North Korean refugee.

The word ‘refugee’ refers to a stateless foreigner who has fled to another country to escape political, racial or religious oppression in their homeland. As far as I’m concerned, most people these days are strangers or refugees to a certain extent—in that they roam around without any certainty. I’m no exception.


KLN: How do you feel about meeting international readers?

Cho: It’s always exciting. It feels strange yet exciting to see people from different countries—each with a different language and culture—read my writing in translation and respond with their own unique sensibility. I Met Loh Kiwan is forthcoming in English translation this August. I look forward to sharing my work with a wider readership, and I’m curious to see how overseas readers respond to its English translation.


KLN: I Met Loh Kiwan depicts the reality of the division across the Korean peninsula. What message do you wish to deliver to overseas readers through this novel?

Cho: I Met Loh Kiwan is a universal novel in that it depicts one man’s struggle for survival in a foreign land. What sets it apart is that he is a North Korean refugee, who constantly reminds us of the division across the Korean peninsula. That unique characteristic is used in the story to explain why North Korea was ravaged by famine in the 1990s and remains isolated long after the Cold War Era. Above all, this is the story of a man named Loh Kiwan, who fights a lonely battle in a strange country without a means of communication or a proper ID card, and the hardships he endures while applying for refugee status. Ultimately, the various issues of the displaced make us realize that we are all refugees in one way or another.


English subtitles translated by Helen Cho