Seopyeonje
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Summary

Yi Chung-jun's haunting and disturbing novel is set in the 1950s after the Korean War in the remote south of the country, home of the traditional art of pansori singing, a moving and plangently beautiful style of folk song performed by traveling musicians. The linked stories center on a family of itinerant singers: a boy and his stepfather and half-sister. Believing that his stepfather caused his mother's death, the boy cannot live with the murderous hatred he feels towards him, so he disappears, leaving father and daughter to travel and perform alone. Believing her art can become elevated to the highest standard only by sensory deprivation, the father is said to have blinded the child. Thereafter, she becomes a legendary performer throughout the land. Years later the half-brother arrives in a village and finds his sister in a tavern. He asks her to sing for him, and with his drum accompaniment the two perform pansori songs throughout the nightthough never explicitly acknowledging their relationship. So begins an unforgettable chain of events in one of the strangest and most haunting of novels exploring themes such as forgiveness, the redemptive power of art, and modern man's loss of innocence and alienation from traditional valuesthe values at the heart of Seopyeonje. A magic-realist gem, the novel employs epic myth and fantasy to create a fusion of the real and the fantastic. Yi Chung-jun's story has attained near-mythical status in South Korea, especially with the acclaimed and award-winning film of the novel breaking box-office records on its release in the 1990s.
Published: Peter Owen Publishers an imprint of Independent Publishers Group on
ISBN: 9780720614992
List price: $9.99
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Seopyeonje - Yi Chung-Jun

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Notes

SEOPYEONJE

IN THE TAVERN the woman poured out her songs from early evening without stopping, oblivious to the pain in her throat, while the man accompanied her on his drum. His expression communicated an impression of strain in an effort to suppress a certain premonition stirred by the woman’s songs. The sweat of labour had formed in clusters on the foreheads of both performers, the singer with her endless songs and the drummer mutely accompanying her.

The tavern stood on a quiet street corner on the outskirts of the town of Boseong, Jeolla-do Province, overlooking in the distance a group of hamlets on the left and a public burial ground on a steep hill on the right, where ancient graves were packed closely right to the edge of the street. The villagers called the secluded hilly passage that meandered through the cemetery the Song Pass, and everyone knew the name of the tavern, the Song Pass Tavern, a dust-coated thatched place that crouched like a clamshell at the entrance to the cemetery. No one suggested that it should be called anything else, since wailings and pallbearers’ dirges filled the street, and the tavern stood guarding its entrance. Casual observers would have passed by without giving it any further thought. There was, however, something more to this passage and this tavern. Most villagers who understood what was what knew about it. Even strangers to the village, if they happened to stop at this tavern for a night of drinking, would soon learn of its significance. This was because of the songs the proprietress sang. She was unmarried and barely managed to keep the tavern going without the help of a man. So extraordinary was her skill in singing the songs of the southern region that anyone who listened to her was deeply