A Letter to My Readers Around the World
- onFebruary 17, 2015
- Vol.26 Winter 2014
- byYi Mun-yol
To my unknown co-inhabitants of Earth who aren’t able to read my books in the original language:
I am Yi Mun-yol, from South Korea, an East Asian country. I was born in 1948 and have devoted all of my life to writing novels. My last name “Yi” comes from the Chinese character 李 which signifies the tree, and “Mun-yol” is a compound Sino-Korean word of which “mun (文)” means letters or literature and “yol (烈)” means hot or ferocious.
However, the name given to me by my parents and recorded in the family register was the single character “Yol,” thus “Mun-yol” was a penname I began using when I became a writer. The meaning of “Mun-yol” is “writer Yol” or “hot and intense writing” and the Romanization of my name “Yi Mun-yol” is also my registered trademark that is used in the international literary market.
The reason I am providing an extensive explication of my name is that it indicates the process by which I ended up living a life of letters. As a son who was abandoned by a man who defected to North Korea in search of his ideological homeland in the midst of the Korean War, I spent a desolate childhood in the ruins of the aftermath of war. I had from early on adopted literature as my haven of seclusion and soon enough was intoxicated by the appeal of words and, after dedicating my younger days to disciplining myself with a passion I didn’t know I was capable of, I at long last shaped my identity as a writer. But then the intentional direction (of the name my father had given me) differed from that of a person who chose to practice writing. I felt burdened by my father’s wish inscribed in my name, therefore I added “mun” as my penname to confine the passion to the domain of letters.
In 1977, I began my career as a novelist after winning a prize in a contest by a provincial South Korean newspaper. Two years later, I made my debut in the Korean literary establishment with the novel, The Son of Man, which borrowed the motif of the “wandering Jew.” Starting from then until now as I am writing this letter, I have written about 50 short stories and novellas in six volumes, 18 novels in 20 volumes, and two epic novels in 22 volumes. In addition, I have written two volumes of essays, one travelogue, and compiled and annotated a total of 20 volumes of Chinese classics, as well as 10 volumes of short and medium-length masterpieces of world literature.
Around the end of 1970s when I became a novelist and began communicating with the world, Korean literature was already recognized as part of world literature. However, world literature was still in the phase of a one-way reception in Korea. This was because of the parochial nature of the Korean language vis-à-vis the Indo-European language-dominant world literature. Then, toward the end of the 1980s when industrialization began making its progress in Korea, Korean literature too embarked on a very active dialogue with world literature.
Driven by such a phenomenon, in 1989, beginning with French, I had nearly 70 books published in 18 languages in 25 countries. Among them, Our Twisted Hero was published in more than 15 countries and The Poet, in over 12 countries. The Son of Man, The Golden Phoenix, A Portrait of Youthful Days, and Hail to the Emperor! were published in more than five countries and I am most eager to know how many of these books have reached the readers who are now reading this.
Communing with one another signifies that we are getting better acquainted with each other. For a novelist, like myself, and you, the reader, what it means is that we are getting to know each other through literature. Yet, the reason why I am presenting myself through a somewhat detailed literary profile on our first encounter is that without a way of communication or a medium it is impossible to send something to others or receive because of the differences in our languages.
Perhaps this letter might come to you before any of my works, which have been finely translated, have a moving encounter with you. Therefore, in order for me to herald that day, I have prepared a rough summary of me and my oeuvre in this writing. I look forward to meeting all of you soon through my books.
by Yi Mun-yol
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 Emperor, The Age of Heroes, Choice 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.