• Book
  • English(English)

여울물 소리

  • Author
  • Country
    Republic of Korea
  • Publisher
  • Published Year
  • Genre
    Literature - Korean literature - Contemporary fiction



    Title: The Sound of Rushing Water

    Author: Hwang Sok-yong

    Genre: Novel


    LTI Korea staff: Alex Baek ( / +82-2-6919-7741)


  • About the book


    Hwang Seok-young’s novel The Sound of Rushing Water is the story of Lee Shin-tong, a man who spent his life as a storyteller. Professional storytellers existed in Korea for only a fleeting time during the 19th century, as the country underwent a period of transition and the existing social order and feudal standards gave way to more modern values. Lee Shin-tong was born the son of a concubine and, according to the regulations of the Joseon Dynasty, was therefore denied most of the benefits granted to children born of noble households. An avid reader from an early age, Lee Shin-tong joined a troop of traveling storytellers and playwrights, choosing this life of wandering as a means of opposing the unjust restrictions placed upon him. It was in the course of his wandering that Lee Shin-tong became swept up in the maelstrom of political conflict and the burgeoning movement for social reform. Joseon society reached its point of maximum instability in the final years of the dynasty, and the country was ravaged by fin-de-siècle unrest. Sporadic episodes of violence developed into the armed conflicts that so often characterized the so-called “period of civil rebellion” in Korean history. As the revolution progressed, a coordinated series of armed struggles were led by the disenfranchised academics, by the lower classes, and by the alienated – people like Lee Shin-tong. Together, these conflicts comprised the prelude to the Donghak Peasant Revolution, fictitiously called Cheonjido in the novel. The sort of life Lee Shin-tong led may very well have been inevitable for a man born into an unjust social system: he was forced into the flow of the revolutionary movement, whose principles were based on the egalitarian idea that all humans were of heaven’s creation and thus deserving of equality.  


    Yet Lee Shin-tong does not tell us his story directly. He is instead being talked about by Yeon-ok, his sweetheart and wife and the chronicler of his life. Assertive and brave, Yeon-ok remains unconstrained by the social regulations and mores of the patriarchal society as she searches tirelessly for her vanished husband. She makes every possible effort to locate Lee Shin-tong, to follow his meandering trail, but they continue to miss one another by seconds. She has only the stories told to her by the people she encounters along the way - Lee Shin-tong’s sister, his brother-in-law, his teacher Seo Il-su, female master singer Whiteflower, Grandmaster Choi Sung-muk. The novel is many-layered and intricately designed, with Lee Shin-tong the adventurous storyteller, the wanderer, and Yeon-ok, firmly planted, the collector, the archivist. In a world today in which information is increasingly fragmented, in which the art of story-telling is itself degraded, Lee Shin-tong acts both as the novel’s epic hero and as the author’s alter ego, entrusted with the power to tell stories in a story-deprived world.    


    Unlike other Korean authors concerned with exploring the ideological side of the Donghak movement, often taking a wider view of the social systems, Hwang Seok-young looks closely at the individuals, at the families, at the everyday human interactions. He paints the many scenes of 19th century life – at times romantic, at others tragic – ranging widely through different settings, from the prison, to the scene of the state examination, to the printing house, the travelers’ inns, and the drinking culture. These scenes of everyday life are set against the backdrop of the political turmoil of the time, painting a stark picture of the world of the marketplace where people from all walks of life collide and bring about change, where the revolution is forged.


    Embodying the core of the traditional Korean narrative style and spirit, The Sound of Rushing Water is one of Hwang Seok-young’s masterworks. He weaves a wide variety of literary styles into his novel, incorporating both the prose and poetry of the period. He retells the famous stories, “A Tale of Rabbit and Turtle,” and “A Tale of General Yim Gyeong-up,” and includes numerous folk songs, traditional three-verse Korean poems, Pansori epic chants, vulgar songs, and masquerades. He demonstrates a deep understanding of the sacred Donghak texts - The Bible of Donghak Doctrine and The Hymns of Dragon Lake, written by Choi Je-u and Choi Shi-hyeong, founders of the Donghak religion - within the context of traditional Korean literature, and he relates their utopian ideals to the popular folk tales, exploring the energy and revolutionary sensibilities present within the texts contemporary to the time. Working against the landscape of traditional Korean literature, Hwang Seok-young captures the spirit of the era alive in the people’s tales - their aspiration for social change.


    By the end of the novel, the Cheonjido revolution has been thwarted; Lee Shin-tong does not return home but rather dies in a strange land. The utopian dream of the romantic revolutionary is not to be. His stories survive, however: the story, once produced, never ceases; it finds its own destiny; it reverberates in the hearts of the people. In Korean Pansori, to perform a story that remains floating in the air, a lingering fragrance, is considered the highest level of achievement. Likewise, the trailing note of Hwang Seok-young’s novel has been likened to “the quietness lingering at the end of a magnificent bell tolling in the distance at dawn.” It is water whispering unendingly throughout the night. The people’s thwarted revolution is now the stuff of folklore and legend and today finds continual rebirth in its echoes. Herein lie the powers of folklore - its continuity, its resilience, its fluidity - which continue to shape the many faces of society.  


    About the author


    The Sound of Rushing Water was published in 2012 in celebration of the fiftieth year of Hwang Seok-young’s career as a writer. Today, Hwang Seok-young ranks among the most well-known and esteemed of contemporary Korean authors, with works translated and published around the world. His long career is clearly split into two periods by the eleven years he spent exiled and imprisoned after making an illegal trip to North Korea in 1987. Works from the first period include the short stories and novellas “Foreign Land”, “Far From Home”, “Mr. Han’s Chronicle”, and the novels Jang Gilsan and The Shadow of Arms. In the years since his release in 1998, he has published The Old Garden, The Guest, Princess Bari, and The Sound of Rushing Water. Many of his translated works have found success across Europe. Mr. Han’s Chronicle was met with great acclaim in Germany, and his novel The Shadow of Arms, a vivid and poignant chronicle of the Vietnam War, received rave reviews from critics in Japan. The Sound of Rushing Water, based on the epic tale of Jang Gilsan, both epitomizes Hwang Seok-young’s style and concerns and reflects further advances in his exploration of the birth and nature of the art of storytelling in Korea. The novel is proof, too, that Hwang Seok-young continues to grow and evolve as a writer.


    About the translators


    Min, Kyong-jin is a freelance translator. He has worked for a non-profit organization in Pennsylvania since 2005. He is the recipient of the Daesan Foundation Translation Grant in 2012 and two KLTI translation grants in 2011 and 2014. He has translated two Korean books into English: Namhan Fortress by Kim Hun and Noodle Road, a KBS documentary travel book. The Sound of Rushing Water is his second collaborative translation with Donald MacLeod Harrison.


    Donald MacLeod Harrison holds an MFA from the Michener Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The Sound of Rushing Water is his second collaborative translation with Kyong-jin Min, with whom he translated Kim Hun’s Namhan Fortress with the support of a Daesan Foundation Translation Grant. He is at work on his own novel, and he teaches writing at Drexel University in Philadelphia.


    Media Response/Awards Received


    Hwang Seok-young evokes the daily life of 19th century Korea in the distinctive voices of his characters. Prior to the novel’s publication, it was feared readers would have trouble understanding the archaic words spoken by many storytellers and performers who appear in its pages. The book defied the expectations typical of such a literary work and immediately sold 70,000 copies, however, proving its appeal to the general reader. Indeed, the diversity of narratives and forms seem to provide a way into understanding the social situations of the late Joseon Dynasty, a period that marked the beginning of modernization in Korea.  


Translated Books (96)

News from Abroad (194)