Meeting With My Brother by Yi Mun-Yol
First published in Korean in Korea in 1994. English language translation by Heinz Insu Fenkl with Yoosup Chang published in America by Columbia University Press on the 21st March 2017.
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How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
'Yi Mun-yol's Meeting with My Brother is narrated by a middle-aged South Korean professor, also named Yi, whose father abandoned his family and defected to the North at the outbreak of the Korean War. Many years later, despite having spent most of his life under a cloud of suspicion as the son of a traitor, Yi is prepared to reunite with his father. Yet before a rendezvous on the Chinese border can be arranged, his father dies. Yi then learns for the first time that he has a half-brother, whom he chooses to meet instead. As the two confront their shared legacy, their encounter takes a surprising turn. Meeting with My Brother represents the political and psychological complexity of Koreans on both sides of the border, offering a complex yet poignant perspective on the divisions between the two countries. Through a series of charged conversations, Yi explores the nuances of reunification, both political and personal. This semiautobiographical account draws on Yi s own experience of growing up with an absent father who defected to the North and the stigma of family disloyalty.'
I wasn't sure what to expect from this novella and came away from it feeling a little disappointed and that I had missed out somewhere along the line. The book begins with an interesting essay about Yi Mun-Yol's life and unusual literary career and I appreciated this additional background into the work, its author, and the challenges faced by the translators. Once onto the novella however, I found it difficult to really appreciate the story. The whole book is only about 120 pages so there is limited space to really get to know Yi so while I could envisage supporting characters, such as Mr Reunification and the man who arranged Yi's meeting, Yi himself never stepped off the page for me. I did however learn about about Korean history and how the country came to be a separated nation. I liked the two brothers' conversation when each defends their ideological standpoints, but I often felt I needed a much greater grounding in Korean culture in order to fully appreciate the many nuances that I could see passing me by.
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Books by Yi Mun-Yol / Novellas / Books from Korea