• Book
  • English(English)

랩소디 인 베를린

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



    Title: Rhapsody in Berlin

    Author: Gu Hyoseo

    Genre: Novel


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


  • About the book


    On the surface, Gu Hyoseo’s novel Rhapsody in Berlin has the form of a mystery novel. A Korean-German musician Kim Sangho (a.k.a. Yamagawa Gentaro, a.k.a. Thomas Kim) leaves a few lines in his diary just before he dies. The lines call for his lover from forty years ago, a Japanese woman named Hanako, who is now well into her 67th year. Like a riddle, Kim Sangho refers to her as “somewhere I’ve wanted to reach all my life,” and then commits suicide. Hanako receives the news and begins to backtrack the forty years they have been apart, asks around for information, researches his life and tries to learn the cause of his death. In that aspect, this novel is faithful to the conventions of the old detective novel.


    On another note, it is also a love story of two people who have been apart for forty years and are united again, like fate, through one person’s death. But it isn’t just any sweet, sentimental romance story; not only because their love is ill-fated and moving at the same time, but also because what separate them for forty years are nationality, race and ideology. Korea has experienced colonization by the Japanese, is still technically at war and divided into north and south, and considers the so-called “pure bloodline principle” as one of its most powerful ideologies. Within this context, Hanako and Kim Sangho’s failed love across nationality and ideology presents a complicated question. Also, the novel’s story within the story is another passionate love story; the love story between Johann Hintermeyer, a German musician in the late 18th Century (also someone that Kim Sangho is so desperate to learn about), and his mentor Aiblinger’s sister, Leah. Hanako’s father’s love of his daughter and Aiblinger’s love of his sister also overlap and complement each other in the theme of tragic, failed love.


    The combined forces of mystery and romance make it hard to put the book down once you start reading. But actually, the most brilliant point of the novel is somewhere else; on the other side of the mystery and romance, what this novel most keenly focuses on is the theme of ‘diaspora.’ The Japanese Yamagawa Gentaro, the Korean Kim Sangho and the German Thomas Kim are actually the same person; so he is Korean, Japanese and German at the same time. In other words, he is the one without nationality, who lives on borders, a “bare life,” in Agamben’s words. Nationality cost him his love and ideology cost him basic humanity and 17 years of his youth. After spending his time as a musician on foreign soil, he finally takes his own life. As most art and artists do, he craves for a free life unrestricted by borders; but nation, race, ideology called for him, and finally drove him to destruction and death. The kind of music he has searched for all his life perhaps originates from the longing for all that is beyond borders and limits. And that longing makes him obsess over a 18th-Century German musician Johann Hintermeyer, who lived through a similar fate as him, and who, after a life of turmoil, got a Joseon (old name of Korea) nationality, just like him.


    So finally, Rhapsody in Berlin becomes a grand artist novel where the stories of the Korean-German musician Thomas Kim and the 18th-Century German musician Johann Hintermeyer whom he searches for all his life overlap each other. The careful historical investigation of the 18th Century German music and musicians, and the detailed research of various musical instruments, place this novel among the most exceptional and unique artist novels in Korea. But the most touching moment of this artist novel is when Hanako finally finds her lover’s grave at the end of the book and discovers a simple engraving on it; 5P 3/10. This cryptic message is a code for a certain color – purple, the color of the aster that Hanako and Gentaro saw together on a mountain path, during the most beautiful and peaceful time of their lives. But is that all? If you are sensitive to the fact that a certain color can become a symbol of some ideology or government, and thus become either a taboo or the object of absurd adorations (so, basically, if you are a Korean), you could not dismiss it so. Purple is, of course, red and blue mixed together. To the people who are divided into the red North and the blue South, who have killed each other under those colors, purple is a color outside that deadly dichotomy, the color of reconciliation. So the place that Gentaro had wanted to reach all his life wasn’t only Hanako; he probably also dreamed of music that is purple and a country that is purple. Where everyone is not left, right, south or north, but on the borders; where diaspora is not a cause for oppression and exclusion; that kind of world, music, and love.


    About the author


    Gu Hyoseo was born in 1958, in Incheon, South Korea. He began his literary career through the Joongang-Ilbo newspaper writing contest in 1987, and has been writing ceaselessly ever since, being known as the “marathoner” in the Korean literary circle. Besides Rhapsody in Berlin, he is also the author of novels such as How to Cross a Swamp, An Unfamiliar Summer, Radio Radio, Secret Door, My Magnolia Tree, A Sad Separation, Nagasaki Papa, and Dongju, as well as collections of short stories such as Will the Sunset Come Again and A Loudspeaker and a Sniper.


    He is also a recipient of prestigious literary awards in Korea, such as the Hanguk-Ilbo Literary Award, Yi Hyo-seok Literary Award, Hwangsunweon Literary Award and the Deasan Literary Award.


    About the translators


    Kim Jiyeun was born in Seoul, South Korea; she attended the Wroclaw International School in Poland, and majored in English literature at Seoul National University. 


    Media Response/Awards Received


    A sad, diaspora life … The novel spans across the late 18th Century Germany, Pyongyang, 21st Century Berlin, Japan and Korea, unfolding the lives of Gentaro and Hintermeyer in a multi-layered narrative form. Through the lives of the two musicians who overcame the political oppressions and difficulties of vagrant lives with their passion, the author weaves a watery romance story, an artist’s story, and a diaspora story, which is rarely portrayed in Korean literature. The author told in an interview that he wanted to express “the idea that the identity of one’s nation and race is not necessarily inherent in oneself, but rather is the result of the distinction and discrimination against another nation and race.”

    - Kukmin-Ilbo Newspaper


    The color theme of Gu Hyoseo’s new novel Rhapsody in Berlin is purple. It is an important color that not only heightens the poetic atmosphere of the book, but paints over the ending of the novel in a beautiful and heart-warming hue. This is a novel of the people who want to stay in one place but have to live with the identity of a wanderer, and their pain. And carved alongside is the power of love against the decaying forces of time.

    - Segye-Ilbo Newspaper


Translated Books (7)