cover image The Prisoner: A Memoir

The Prisoner: A Memoir

Hwang Sok-yong, trans. from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell and Anton Hur. Verso, $34.95 (688p) ISBN 978-1-8397-6083-9

In this sweeping narrative, Korean novelist Sok-yong (Princess Bari) recounts his years as a political prisoner in South Korea and looks back at his lifelong political activism. In 1947, the author’s family fled North Korea to the South as communism tightened its grip on the country. While his parents worked to support the family, a teenage Sok-yong traveled with his friends throughout South Korea and later quit school to join the military. He details how the atrocities he witnessed during his service in Vietnam informed his political writing in the 1970s and ’80s, which played a significant part in fueling the democracy movement in South Korea. Most potent are the recollections of his five years in the Seoul Detention Center, where he was imprisoned following a trip to North Korea in 1993. After years of endless interrogation and isolation, he was pardoned in 1998 as part of a group amnesty effort by the newly elected president. In reflecting on his “life as a writer in the prison of time, language, and this Cold War museum that is the divided Korean peninsula,” Sok-Yong reveals a moving picture of one man’s attempts to live within the ambiguities of freedom. This inspiring account shouldn’t be missed. (Aug.)