An enthralling saga and panorama of Korean village life in the early 20th century (roughly 18951925) by that country's most highly acclaimed living novelist. The story, which possesses both the formal dimensions and the high seriousness of epic, is set in a period during which Japan held strong sway over Korea, regulating its business and industry and making arbitrary land grants to Japanese settlers. At the heart of the novel is a series of conflicts between Korean conservatives too enervated to oppose Japan's acquisitive energies and radical native insurgents. Their resistance culminated in the Dong Hak rebellion, a watershed historical event that casts long shadows over the intricately interwoven fates of Kyong-ni's vividly drawn characters—most especially Choi Chisoo, an arrogant, wealthy landowner, hated and envied by his neighbors and servants, and at continual odds with his embittered wife, whose ``failure'' to bear him a son provokes Choi's bitter displeasure and sets in motion a chain of events leading to his downfall. The author employs a kind of Upstairs, Downstairs structure, in which nondescript villagers and assorted second-class citizens observe, comment on, and in some ways parallel the lives of their ``betters.'' Among the most memorable are Pyongsan, an impoverished landowner waiting patiently through half a lifetime to be revenged on the avaricious Choi; the handsome villager Yongi; and the scheming Guinyo, the ambitious housemaid whose plan to rise above her station precipitates chaos, losses, and death, and drives the story to its stunning, tragic conclusion. The energy of melodrama surges through this big novel, yet as a portrait of a culture and a knowing psychological tale of the social and personal consequences of rigidly enforced class differences, it's a work of high literary distinction as well. A much-beloved work in Korea (where it was made into an equally popular television series) that should find many grateful admirers in America as well.
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