Taebaek Mountains. This majestic mountain range that make up the backbone of Korea is often referred to as the nation’s spine. It also happens to be the title of one of the greatest literary saga of Korea. Set in the time between right after Korean Liberation and the end of the Korean War, Taebaek Mountains tells the story of the people of the “lost years” of Korean modern history, where social changes and war brought chaos to the people. On May 30, Mr. Jo Jung-rae, the novelist behind this legendary literary work, visited HAFS to teach us students a lesson about life. Students filled up the auditorium, each carrying notebooks and pens to take notes during this once-in-a-lifetime lecture.
The lecture, titled “Our Road We Take Together” started off with the author greeting the students and emphasizing the importance of this time. “See, a stream of water never returns to the same spot it had flowed, just as time that had passed never returns.” With that, he told us that he’s still writing several pages of new novels every day.
Instead of giving a lecture on literature or another academic subject, Mr. Jo chose to deal with something that was more fundamental: how HAFS students should live their lives. He mentioned the critical flaws that many intelligent Korean students have nowadays: lack of skills for writing, speaking, and cooperating. “If the people who support the country have issues, those issues become the nation’s crises,” he said while adding that another problem that the so-called intellectuals have is the lack of modesty. Mr. Jo listed the qualities that he thinks intellectuals should possess: “Aside from the obvious knowledge and capability, an intellectual should be respectful to humankind and be aware of their responsibilities. If these qualities are not achieved, we get a wrongful intellectual who is arrogant and doesn’t act on his duties.”
Notable examples of these “wrongful intellectuals” are the “chin-il-pa,” Koreans who helped the Japanese suppress other Koreans for their own benefit during the Japanese rule of Korea. Chin-il-pa are also mentioned several times in Taebaek Mountains. Mr. Jo mentioned the brave liberation fighters of Korea during those times and noted the significance of “fighting for what’s right even though you know you’re going to lose.” Further stressing the importance of contributing to the society, he tries to do it through literature. “I ask you, future leaders of society, to be modest and to use your abilities for others.”
Mr. Jo also accepted questions during the Q&A session after his lecture. “What is the most important part of a novel?” a student asked, and Mr. Jo replied, “As an author, I think that the title takes up half the significance of a novel and the first sentence takes up a quarter. The very last sentence takes up the rest.” To the question asking about the role of the students, the author answered by talking about the overly competitive, individualistic society and pleaded the students in the auditorium to bring a change.
BY Youngbean Kim ’18