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I Met Loh Kiwan

I Met Loh Kiwan scrap

로기완을 만났다

  • Author

    Cho Haejin조해진

  • Publisher


  • Year Published


  • Category

    Literary Fiction 순수소설

  • Target User

    Adult 성인

  • Period

    Contemporary 현대

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Description 작품 소개

Embarking on a quest to find the essence of life,

I Met Loh Kiwan tells the compelling story of Loh, a North Korean defector who stealthily enters Belgium on his own. This work marks a significant turning point in Jo Hae-jin's literary career, beautifully capturing empathy and affection towards others. Jo has long focused on characters grappling with real-world hardships and their inner sense of alienation. Before Loh, her characters often chose to avoid reality or hide within themselves in times of crisis. However, I Met Loh Kiwan reflects a deeper and broader exploration by the author, where characters find new hope. “They begin to face the truth, seek solidarity with others, and, albeit faintly, search for hope.” It prods the author to realize that “seeking to live and connect with others might be a greater act of courage and more profound in literature.” (Segye ilbo) This story, which according to the author herself “broadened my horizons, taught me the importance of empathy and generosity in love and solidarity, and most of all, gave me the desire to live once again. I hope new life is breathed into the story every time it is read, over and over again.” With the remastered edition of I Met Loh Kiwan, it's now time for more readers to engage in genuine empathy and solidarity, venturing to find their own raison d'etre amidst the monotony of everyday life.

“At first, he was no more than L., his initials.”

An unparalleled journey, to meet the most enigmatic of men

Known by the initial L, Loh Kiwan was born and raised in the 7th work unit of Sesun-ri, Onsung County, North Hamgyong Province. Loh is a twenty-year-old youth who ventured alone into Belgium, miles away from home, in a bid for survival. After his mother, who had crossed the North Korean border with him, tragically passed away in China, he realized that his survival was her final wish. Clutching the 650 euros he had obtained by selling her body, as if it were his life, he arrives in Brussels. In this foreign land, without his homeland and his language, he endures unbearable poverty and contempt.

The novel is narrated not by Loh Kiwan but by a narrator referred to as 'I.' 'I' is a writer for a broadcast program that turns the stories of unfortunate neighbors into documentaries and receives donations through live ARS. In order to get more donations for a participant 'Yoonju,' who lives in a semi-basement and struggles with a large tumor on her cheek after losing her parents, 'I' postpones Yoonju's broadcast to the Chuseok holiday. However, this well-intended decision leads to a dire situation where Yoonju's tumor turns malignant due to the delayed surgery. Overwhelmed by guilt for having inadvertently led Yoonju into deep despair because of his own pity, 'I' turns away from her. Losing the courage to face reality, 'I' stumbles upon the story of the defector Loh in a current affairs magazine and heads to Belgium on a whim. There, 'I' manages to find Loh’s diary, tracing his steps and recording his journey. By writing about Loh, 'I' seeks to rediscover his reason to live and to reevaluate the true meaning of writing. In essence, this novel is both a poignant account of Loh’s 'Arduous March' and a process of soul-searching for 'I' as a writer, fundamentally questioning the essence of a writer's life.

A story that fills the heart with hope to the brim,

crafted from sympathy and solidarity

In I Met Loh Kiwan, characters like 'I,' who inadvertently causes profound despair to another and seeks to flee from reality, Loh, who stands at a crossroads of survival unprotected and abandoned, Yoonju, who has been endlessly wounded from a young age, and 'Park,' who has suffered a lifetime of pain due to a concealed past, all navigate their lives burdened with their own pain and despair. Through their stories, marked by differing ages, occupations, and circumstances, the author highlights how challenging and precarious it is to live as a dignified individual in this world. Yet, they do not succumb solely to their suffering. 'I' learns to empathize with others through Loh’s diary, someone they've never met; Loh regains his will to live through bonds formed with 'Park' and 'Laika,' transcending age and racial barriers. The gradual healing of emotional wounds through mutual reflection between 'I' and 'Park,' and the mending of rifts between Yoonju and 'I' across thousands of kilometers, are also meticulously portrayed. Thus, I Met Loh Kiwan speaks of the intrinsic sadness of life while simultaneously arguing for hope through compassion and connection. The process of healing from one’s personal flaws and conflicts, within the context of thoughtful and grounded reflection, offers silent solace to all those who dwell on the desolate fringes of life.

Reading I Met Loh Kiwan, resplendent with rich imagination and thoughtful prose, we become sensitively attuned to another’s pain, delving into the story behind their suffering and actually caring for them, thus encountering the essence of literature. The life of that someone from the novel transitions into our own, ultimately leading us to understanding them deeply. The fact that it may be impossible to fully understand another does not pose a problem. Rather, I Met Loh Kiwan negotiates with that impossibility, consistently challenging and pushing against our feeble inclination to pity others. It conveys a sincere effort to reach closer to others, persistently colliding with and breaking against the stubborn wall of 'the other,' embracing all the limits and disenchantment that comes with it, to achieve pure empathy and compassion. Thus, magic happens where "the acknowledgment that one can never truly understand another paradoxically leads to a deeper understanding of one's own life" (from Kim Yeon-su’s recommendation). Even 13 years after its first edition, this magic remains necessary, as life's sorrows grow ever more diverse and profound, our sensitivity to others' pain dulls with ease. With a keen eye for the world we inhabit and a warm blanket for healing wounds, this work has long been relevant and will continue to be so for a long time.


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Author Bio 작가 소개

Translations 번역서

Translator`s Expectations 기대평

There are no expectations.

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