The Cry of the Magpies

I was looking for Korean literature in English. Its a library meant for technical books, of which there are plenty, but it does have a few cupboards of novels in Korean. I scraped through and found this lone novella. I was delighted because it fulfilled my requirement of being short. Its a collection of two stories by Kim Dong-Ni and is just 86 pages! My labmates tell me that he was a well known writer.

Bong-su, the protagonist, is off to serve the army behind leaving his poor mom and sister Ok-nan. Like other villagers she held the belief that the magpie crying in the morning would bring guests home.  Every morning the magpies would usually cry and she hoped that her son would return. Days turn to months and a year or so later he returns. Was he relieved or did he cook up an excuse to get relieved is something that is revealed later. Infact the story goes back and forth as it unfolds.

Bong-su had come home thirsting for his love, Jeong-sun. She loved him too but now was married to Sang-ho. He had convinced her that Bong-su had got killed in the war and even prouced a notice saying so. Bong-su pleads with her to start life afresh. She is willing to be with Bong-su but lacks the courage to leave the family. She has child from Sang-ho. Bong-su too, is frustrated and the story ends in a question mark. But not yet. Yeong-suk, Sang-ho’s sister is Ok-nan’s friend and possibly secretly likes Bong-su…And when he heads into the forest frustrated over Jeong-sun, she follows him….”please dont kill yourself, i will give you my love, i will do anything for you, if only i can assuage your grief.

Next moment she was in my arms…just then i heard the magpies cawing…Slowly i lowered my handsonto her chest…The next moment my two hands were pressing her tender neck down against the ground.” Those are the last lines of the story.  The cry of the magpies in the evening is believed to foretell the arrival of death.

The story is tragic and lingers in your mind long after being read.  Infact it grew with time.  Bong-su and Jeong-sun could have eloped but the author prefers to keep that possibility unanswered…I think thats how he builds the lingering effect, keeping ends open in a story. 

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