“During my time on earth I would go forth to make a name for myself, to bring glory to my parents’ names and to conduct proper rites for my ancestors. Yet because of the misfortune of my birth I am treated with low regard by relatives and neighbors a like. Only Heaven knows the depth of my sorrow I harbor in my heart. How can a true man resign himself to being considered an inferior by all his life?”
– The Story of Hong Gildong
The Story of Hong Gildong, one of the most significant works of Korean literature, tells the tale of a young man from a noble family who achieves greatness despite his social status.
Our protagonist, Hong Gildong, is a lowborn son of a concubine, thus he can’t serve as a government official and can’t address his father (a noble government minister) as Father and his brother as Brother. He takes the matter into his own hands, leaves his home, and decides to lead a group of bandit in Taebaek Mountains, pillaging from the rich and giving the loot to the poor. At its core, The Story of Hong Gildong is part folk tale and part social satire. As Minsoo Kang has pointed out in the introduction, there has been a lot of Korean literature written about the voiceless and the underdog that mass market paperbacks in Korea were once full of them. Somehow, Hong Gildong makes a lasting impact.
Minsoo Kang’s new translation of The Story of Hong Gildong weaves historical nuances and fantasy beautifully, making it accessible for readers of all ages. An epic and poignant tale full of morals and principles.
Rating : 3/4
**Post not sponsored. All opinions my own.