Leaving readers in awe once again!
Overwhelmingly immersive and stunningly emotional
The warmth of the times that unraveled from Jeong Jia’s fingertips
The raging waves that a man of mysteries has sailed through
The strength of life that makes us persevere and endure
The novel is set in the present day, covering only three days after the death of the narrator’s Father, a “former Partisan.” However, the intertwined stories at the funeral take readers to the fetters of the 70 years of modern history since liberation rather vividly. Such a grand scale of narrative and gripping immersion is a feat of narrative prowess that only Jeong Jia can accomplish. But perhaps the true beauty of this novel lies in its “lightheartedness.” As readers may guess from the very first chapter, which starts with “My father’s dead. (…) Holy shit,” this novel is not “determinedly” serious, despite the seriousness of the subject matter.
Stories told like episodes of a sitcom
The path toward understanding her father
The narrator’s Father was a Partisan who roamed Mount Jiri and Mount Baekwoon with a carbine rifle. He fought in hopes of a more equal world right after the Japanese occupation, but his dreams were utterly shattered. With his comrades being killed one by one, the narrator’s Father tries to rebuild the organization by feigning surrender, but even that attempt fails. Nevertheless, Father remained a socialist for the rest of his life in Korea, a capitalist society. He never gave up on the belief in an equal world, and never turned a blind eye to the difficulties of even those whom he had never met before. “I,” the narrator, does not understand him and even finds him a bit ridiculous. Acting as if he is on the verge of a revolution in a world where everyone is already well-fed and educated without being discriminated against almost reads as black comedy. “I” ran in parallels with Father, and he’s now found dead – at dawn on Labor Day, having hit his head against a telephone pole.
The story unravels mainly in four parts. The first is with Father and his younger brother, whom had been at odds with all his life. Believing that his “communist” brother brought the family down, the narrator’s Uncle is so callous that he hangs up the phone when he receives the news of his older brother’s death. Having been a lifelong drunkard, Uncle would sometimes visit the narrator’s home and thrash about, yelling “You think you’re so much better than everyone else, now that you’ve brought the family down?” (Page 38). The narrator’s Father would never confront him, nor say anything in return. “I” wishes that Uncle would not show up at the funeral. Whether he will indeed show up or not is what everyone at the funeral is wondering about, and readers will also be watching with keen interest and curiosity throughout the story – will the deceased Father and his living brother be able to reconcile?
The second is the story of the friends that Father made in Gurye. Each and every one of the characters is so unique and three-dimensional that just looking at them is like watching a sitcom. Mr. Park is Father’s elementary school friend, who is now running a watch shop. He has spent his life as a soldier and a drill instructor, which means he and Father were always at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Nonetheless, the two have remained friends for life. The bickering between the two old men over their differences in political stance is somewhat endearing, and concludes with the words “But at the end of the day, he’s far better than anyone else” (Page 47) – something that readers might wish that the current political circles would learn. And then there is a girl with bleached hair who shows up at the funeral, looking very much out of place. For some reason she claims she is Father’s “cigarette buddy” (Page 139). Befriending a 17-year-old is not something so out of character for Father, but it is still comical that he insists on going on and on about “American imperialism” to the girl whose mother is Vietnamese. There are also “Hak-soo” and many others who claim to be like sons that Father never had, and stories of those who were once pointing their guns at one another but eventually became friends.
Is my father really who I thought he was?
The countless episodes that he left behind
The third is the story of “I” and Father. The central plot of Father’s Liberation Diary revolves around the daughter, who has lived through many ordeals for being “the daughter of a Partisan,” beginning to understand her father. Father had no income because he was a socialist and a revolutionist, yet he would never stop “standing surety for” (Page 57) others’ debt, meaning that the family was always poor and the narrator had always blamed her Father for that. The long-winded speeches Father gave whenever and wherever could hardly be of any use in present times, and that was why “I” had always wanted to leave her hometown where her Father lived. However, “I” realizes that the Father she knew was only a fraction of the person that he really was; there are rational and realistic sides of him, and bold sides that were able to motivate people. More than anything else, “I” recalls moments in which her Father loved her greatly, which she had forgotten. Finally, with his ashes in her hand, the narrator makes a decision to say farewell to her Father in the most fitting way possible.
Lastly, the fourth is the episodes between Father and the narrator’s Mother. They add yet another touch of delightful lightheartedness to the narrative, bringing a smile to readers’ faces. Although Mother is her husband’s lifelong companion and a socialist herself, she is more realistic than her counterpart. This is why Mother would always nag at Father for many reasons – sometimes over trivial matters like not brushing his clothes off or not being able to quit drinking and smoking, and sometimes over more serious matters like throwing aside farming to stand surety for others’ debts. At moments they seem like adversaries, but they stand devoutly united in the name of “materialism” and “the people.” These comical episodes that illustrate the pair work as a feel-good catalyst that makes it easier to understand what Father’s life must have been like.