Sohyeon After Midnight Book Reading Videos and Character Roll-Call

I had some time this weekend to prepare a few videos for everyone to enjoy. The first video is my character roll-call, which I made for my readers who have been struggling to pronounce my characters’ names in a couple of my novels.

Character Roll-Call:

Then I prepared a three-part series of me reading selections from my horror novel, Sohyeon After Midnight. Here are the links.

Sohyeon After Midnight Book Reading, Part 1:

Sohyeon After Midnight Book Reading, Part 2:

Sohyeon After Midnight Book Reading, Part 3:

They run between an hour and an hour and a half, so for people who haven’t been able to make it to any of my book launches or other public readings around town, this is the next best thing.

Happy Easter!

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Fate, A Cruel Bridle – Queen Seondeok, Vol. 1 – Part 3

Finishing up volume 3 of the first book of Eunkyeong Ryu’s Queen Seondeok (류은경의 “선덕여왕”), we pick up with chapter 5 “Deokman, Child of the Desert.” The scene is set in the Taklamakan Desert in the Tarim Basin out in Xinjiang. That desert has an evil reputation, and the chapter begins with a description of the sun and sandy soil. Fifteen years have passed. A traveler stops to survey the landscape under the silvery moonlight. Chilsuk, an emissary of Mishil’s, is talking with a woman named Deokman near the city of Dunhuang.

It’s a beautiful desert night. Chilsuk takes off his bamboo hat and sits across from the young woman who is darkly tanned and was raised by a woman named Sohua. He tells her he has been looking for a woman for 15 years, which is rather startling since the reader is aware that she’s the person he’s looking for.  He doesn’t seem to be aware of it, though.

As the story progresses in the desert sequence, they keep using an alternative name for Silla, Kyerim, to refer to that kingdom in ancient Korea, and that is pervasive throughout this volume and important to know. There are also mentions of religious workers in the area and the road leading to Rome.  The next section gets even deeper into the Silk Road trade and the commandery at Dunhuang, which was also known as a major Buddhist hub with a large temple complex. It explains Silk Road geography and the contrast between the severe cold and intense heat of the desert. Deokman talks with Katan, a Roman merchant with an aquiline nose who wears a tunic and paenula. Merchants from every country are in the settlement, but there has been a prohibition on importing tea into the area, even with the possibility of merchants being beheaded for violating it.

In section 3, the story turns back to Mishil in the Silla palace. She talks about the twins and the fact that 15 years that have passed since the second child disappeared. Her faction is concerned about the prophecy of the 7th star becoming 8 stars in the Big Dipper constellation. Mishil’s ally Chilsuk disappeared 15 years earlier looking for one of the twins.

Then the story shifts to Prince Yongsu and Princess Cheonmyeong. They are husband and wife now, and Yongsu gets out of bed after a heavy sleep. Did he have a nightmare? One of them is crying. Mishil’s faction dethroned Yongsu’s father King Jinji and confined him for three years in the palace jail, where he died a miserable and lonely death. Yongsu complains to the king, who in response marries him off to his daughter Cheonmyeong.

The chapter wraps up with the last two sections focusing again on the desert, far away in a steep, snowy mountain pass where the characters arrive at an oasis. Sohua loads up goods on a camel while Deokman walks around. Katan is with them. The first scene describes the process of making tea and focuses on tea bricks.  Centurions are around the area and bust someone over the tea, but Sohua causes a disruption when she turns pale and starts convulsing. Deokman apologizes to her over and over again, Katan sends someone to fetch some water, and Chilsuk draws his sword.

The next scene continues the previous scene. Sohua is having serious trouble breathing, and the group ends up in jail. At one point, soldiers open the prison door and people pull out bound by a rope as criminals are escorted to an execution ground. Sohua calls her daughter’s name, feeling choked up remembering how Munno named Deokman 15 years earlier. Sohua confesses her deep maternal affection for Deokman, and Deokman cries, wiping away her tears. The night sky is mentioned a lot. Chilsuk believes he has finally found the missing princess and thinks of his ally Mishil back in Silla.

Chapter 6, “Fate, A Cruel Bridle,” starts off with Misaeng, Mishil’s brother, and Sejong discussing King Jinpyeong’s plan make former King Jinji’s son Yongsu Crown Prince. Some time is spent considering bone rank, but Mishil and Sejong’s  close associates were involved in deposing King Jinji, so Sejong was furious over this selection since conferring Yongsu with the Crown Prince title means he would later become king. Misaeng and Hajong also weigh in on the topic.

The next scene describes a big farewell party in the desert. Camels loaded with silk, pottery, gold and musical instruments are ready for traveling back to the merchants’ homelands along the Silk Road. There is abundant food and an open bonfire at the party, and they have a farewell drink together. Then they listen to an Indian bagheshiri raga, and this passage has a detailed description of the beat and music. Chiksuk visits Sohua’s room. This continues into the next segment with Chilsuk guessing Sohua’s name and explaining he has been looking for the girl for the past 15 years to bring back to Kyerim. This part ends with Deokman screaming, “mama, run!”

The scene shifts briefly back to Mishil and her brother Misaeng talking about some scheme they are setting up against Prince Yongsu, who is personally going to lead an army when troops are sent out to war.

Then the story goes back to the desert with more drama from Deokman. She guesses Munno is her father, but Sohua says he isn’t and insists that Deokman’s father didn’t abandon them. She begs Deokman to believe her, but Deokman declares she wants details and doesn’t need an irresponsible father.  Sohua apologizes to Deokman and starts crying, knowing King Jinpyeong’s concern about the girl and her need to keep his secret.

In chapter 7, things start to really heat up. The first scene shows Maya and Cheonmyeong talking about Mishil and Yongsu. King Jinpyeong joins them, and they worry about competing with Mishil in a power struggle for the kingdom. They relate to Cheonmyeong the story of Mishil trying to assassinate Maya when she was pregnant with the princess and how Munno rescued her. Cheonmyeong questions them about Munno since she hasn’t heard this story and Munno disappeared 15 years ago. They also talk about the star prophecy of one star in the constellation splitting from seven to eight stars.

After a brief scene of Deokman, we return to a more picturesque scene of Mishil meeting a soldier in a dark forest under the crescent moon. It goes into detail about the setting and the types of trees here, even noting they are zelkova, ash and bush clover trees. They are plotting to stop the plan to make Yongsu Crown Prince. A break in this section shows Yongsu leaving Cheonmyeong for the front lines with the Silla army the next morning. It’s starting to rain.

Sohua dies in the next section, and Deokman tells Katan she wants to go to Kyerim and find Munno, the only person she knows there. She doesn’t know her father’s name, but she thinks Munno does, so she wants to find him.

Two months later, Princess Cheonmyeong dreams that her husband Prince Yongsu is shot in the heart by an enemy Baekje arrow. The dream seems so real, leaving Cheonmyeong with an ominous premonition. Disturbed, she later talks to her mother Maya about it.

Spring and summer pass, and Cheonmyeong holds a baby whose face resembles his father. Her brother in law Prince Yongchun follows the directive left behind by the late Prince Yongsu before he went to war and helps Cheonmyeong select the name for her young son, Chunchu.

Mishil, Seolwon and Sejong discuss Munno in the next section. Seolwon thinks Munno is on the border of Baekje and Koguryo, and they talk about how Prince Yongchun has gone out looking for Munno. They speculate further about Munno’s whereabouts, but Mishil is still unhappy because the position of Crown Prince is empty in spite of being given a special new royal title herself.

In chapter 8, “Meeting,” Princess Cheonmyeong meets Deokman, though she has no idea who the girl is. The description of Deokman here is rather remarkable again, as it was at her birth. She is described as a young foreigner with a bright countenance and a sweet voice. I’m going to skip most of the middle sections of the chapter, but by the end of it, Deokman and Cheonmyeong talk about Deokman’s experience in the desert and Deokman’s plan to find Munno.

Chapter 9 shifts to describe the hardships of the nearby kingdom of Kaya in the beginning before returning back to the twin princesses who have just found each other without realizing it. Deokman talks a lot about Sohua’s dagger, and Cheonmyeong seems to think Deokman is a boy rather than a girl.

In chapter 10, the final chapter in this volume, the twins go looking for Munno and manage to find him as well as the other secretly hidden child, Bidam, whom Munno raised as his own son.  Bidam is now 17. More to come on this situation in volume 2 when we cycle back around next time.

Part three of a three part series.

Next time: We return to China to finish up the final volume of the Three Bodies series!

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The Lucky Cat Series Volume 3, Lucky Cat and the Gods of War, Now Available

Volume 3 of my Lucky Cat Series, Lucky Cat and the Gods of War, is ready in both print and e-book editions at Amazon or at any of the conferences I’ll be selling at, so be sure to pick up a copy:

Print Edition Cover

Here’s the description:

Vengeance comes on soft, black wings.

The murder of a Movement double agent draws the superstate’s attention back to the sleepy village of Tyosha where Chika Hagiwara has been banished along with her family.  Now in possession of the Lucky Cat statue her mother made her as a farewell gift, Chika must elude the robotic sentinels that guard the village to follow the magical cat to a ghostly castle waiting out in the empty plains beyond the village’s barbed wire.

With Chika’s help, the Empress of Nambata Castle begins her assault upon the superstate’s supreme capital city with Leader Xing as her main target. Harnessing the power of mystical roses destroyed in the French Alps by the superstate decades earlier, the Empress and her royal court of hinamatsuri dolls bring their own unyielding form of justice to the city.

In the wake of the attack, Leader Xing appoints her right hand man General Shulga to head the superstate’s new Special Doll Finding and Animal Control Task Force. Along with his son Trofim, Chika’s old school friend, they set out to destroy the Empress’ allies and find a way to neutralize Nambata Castle. 

I’m not doing volume 4 until next year, so the two new volumes should make my fans who were looking for the next book early last year happy for awhile. This volume continues with the horror and political satire while expanding my new mythology surrounding the Lucky Cat statues, with even more cats and ball-joint dolls than volume 2 – I had some requests for the ball joint dolls, too, at a summer conference.

Related to this series and its themes, I am doing a special series as things come up on 20th century totalitarianism called the Lucky Cat Series History Lessons, which readers can find on my Facebook page over the past few months. I’ll be adding to it as I come across information and articles in the news:

I also recently did an interview with Book Marketing Buzz about my horror novel, The Haunting at Ice Pine Peak, and you can read that here:

For readers redirected to this blog from that interview, let me also add that my range of characters in it also came naturally because of my experience working with the pan-Asian festival, Silk Screen for over a decade.  The festival commonly had committees with just about every race and ethnicity, from Chinese to Indian to Filipino to American and everything in between. It was just part of the regular milieu I had around me at any given time when I was at their events, and it was a big contrast to my experience in other organizations.

Now that this book is done, I will be getting the blog back on track, so be on the lookout for the next installment of Queen Seondeok.

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2019 Summer Event Schedule

My summer schedule for is set to kick off next month, and while I’m still waiting for more details or confirmation on a few events, here is what I have coming up:

April 12th-14th Steel City Con, Monroeville (Confirmed)

May 11th-12th Three Rivers Comic Con, Homestead Waterfront (Confirmed)

June 14th-16th Living Dead Weekend – Monroeville (Confirmed)

July 4th-7th Anthrocon, Pittsburgh

July 26th-28th Confluence, Coraopolis (Confirmed)

August TBD Steel City Con, Monroeville

I’ve been going at a slower reading pace on this blog for the 1st quarter because I’m finishing up my final edit of Volume 3 of the Lucky Cat Series, Lucky Cat and the Gods of War, which should be available in April, though I’m not sure how early. I’ll definitely have it by the May show at Three Rivers Comic Con at the latest. This is basically the second half of book 2 that I split into two volumes. Once I get that out of the way, I’ll be back to my usual posting schedule on this blog, though I have been posting more on my other channels in recent months. Those blogs are linked to the right side of this blog, so you can check that content out by clicking there. I’m also hoping to get some more reading videos out there in the next month in addition to getting back to some of my other projects.

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The Birth of Twin Princesses and Flight Into Danger – Queen Seondeok, Vol. 1 – Part 2

This post we will continue our look at the first book of Eunkyeong Ryu’s Queen Seondeok (류은경의 “선덕여왕”), which is a novelized version of the Korean TV show by the same name.

Chapter 2 continues with a focus on Mishil but starts to get into the storyline of Deokman’s family somewhat. It has seven scenes.  Four years after chapter 1’s events, a lot has happened in Silla. King Jinheung has died, and King Jinji has taken the throne in the first scene. The second scene shows Munno going to visit a cottage or hermitage at the base of a steep mountain in the springtime, where a young man sits on the floor and talks with him. The two discuss the baby boy in silk swaddling clothes that Munno has brought to him. They talk about something that happened 4 years earlier between Mishil and the Hwarang. 

Munno emphasizes to the young man that Lady Mishil shouldn’t know about the child even though this will be difficult to hide. Mishil didn’t need the boy to become empress, and it even seems she nearly kills the baby at one point by attempting to crush its windpipe, but Munno takes him and names him Bidam in the hopes he won’t become as corrupt as his mother, who is now subject to Buddhist karma. The name Bidam is Munno’s prayer to ward off this terrible fate.

This is a dramatic quote from the novel where Mishil discards her son:

미안하다, 아기야. 하지만 나를 황후로 만들어주지 못하는 아들은 필요가 없구나. (p.68)

“I’m sorry, baby, but I don’t need a son who can’t make me queen.” (My translation)

We have a few more definitions that are special for historical fiction to add to my earlier list. Gukseon (국선, 國仙) refers to a hwarang leader.  We see this used a lot here to refer to Munno. The title gungju (궁주, 宮主) sounds a little like the word for princess, but it has a different vowel and actually means milady or lady. This title is often affixed to Mishil’s name indicating she is a queen, concubine or princess used from the Koryo through the Choseon eras, so it is a bit close in meaning to gongju 공주, princess (公主 ).  I think the latter is more restrictive in its use, however.

In section 3, the story turns to King Jinji and his two sons King Yongsu and Kim Yongchun, but before it’s done, we are shown a scene between the next king and queen, Baekjeong  (later known as King Jinpyeong) and his wife Maya. They’re coming from an ancestral shrine, and Maya reveals to Baekjeong that she’s pregnant.  The next few sections also continue with these topics, but Sohua, an attendant, appears, and they question her about whether the Hwarang are putting on their makeup, which is their signal that they are preparing for war. She says they are.

In sections 5 and 6, Maya goes to visit her mother’s house on urgent business, but her palanquin goes missing. She has been been kidnapped, and her ten guards have been killed. The chapter closes in its seventh section with Baekjeong conferring with Munno to determine Maya’s whereabouts and come up with a way to rescue her. It also comes out that this kidnapping was Mishil’s scheme to get rid of Maya. 

Chapter 3 has four sections and begins with Maya’s safe return and her elevation to Empress along with Baekjeong taking the throne as King Jinpyeong. Mishil must now humble herself and call Maya empress. In the second section, Maya goes into labor, and Jinpyeong wants his wife and child to be safe. As Maya screams in pain, clutching her abdomen, the attendants cover her with a quilt. Sohua watches for the head, and when it appears, she realizes there are twins!

When Jinpyeong hears that there are two babies, he urgently tells Sohua to lock the door. Sohua hesitates but eventually does as he asks. He tells her he intends to give her one of the children to take for safekeeping, but she thinks he’s joking. The medical lady-in-waiting takes Maya’s pulse.

In section 3, Mishil and her brother Misaeng are in her palace along with Seolwon, and Misaeng is angry at Munno’s interference and “ careless provocation.” They also talk about deposing King Jinji and the rumor that Maya gave birth to twins.

The last section of the chapter turns somewhat more meditative as it portrays Munno with Seolwon standing out on a watchtower. It describes the stars in the night sky and Munno’s sleeves blowing in the wind, his general demeanor, a grove of trees, and Seolwon’s appearance.  This passages has very little dialogue and ends with someone yelling for him to come back to the palace.

Chapter 4’s title is particularly important since it really kicks off the action surrounding the novel’s title character, who is one of the newborn twins. “Pursuit” begins with describing the two princesses Maya has given birth to, and the contrast between the babies is very strong. The first one is born bald, the second with luxurious black hair. The emphasis is on the remarkable appearance of the second born daughter. Her eyes are also clearer than those of the firstborn, etc.

Jinpyeong worries the second born child will come to harm because Mishil’s eyes and ears are everywhere around the palace.  Everything they do will get back to her through this network, so he considers sending the child away even though Maya doesn’t want him to. He admonishes Sohua to protect the child, and Munno is also recruited into his efforts, with Maya eventually imploring Munno to save the children.

In the next scene, Mishil and her allies Misaeng, Sejong, and Chiksuk note that Munno was at the delivery room and went inside. Mishil is surprised by this news. Then they hear that Munno later broke in on the Hwarang after leaving the delivery room with a bundle in his arms. They speculate again that twins were born and that Munno took one of them, however, they think the Hwarang doesn’t know that there are twin princesses. 

Meanwhile, King Jinpyeong announces the birth of Princess Cheonmyeong and demands everyone bow to her.

In section three, we see Munno and Misaeng addressing the military. Misaeng is primarily frustrated and wondering who Munno gave the twin to in this passage. Later, Seolwon gives Mishil a letter Munno left behind.  It seems there is some sort of star prophecy about the constellation of Ursa Major involving eight stars (note that the Big Dipper, which consists of seven of Ursa Major’s stars, is very important in East Asian astronomy and religion) that signals Mishil’s fall from power, but the letter explains that what they knew was not the whole prophecy. The letter completes the prophecy with a key section about the seven stars become eight, indicating the appearance of Mishil’s adversary!  This part is bolded in the text.

I’m a little unclear about whom the letter Munno dropped was actually addressed to, though it is addressed to “milady.” I haven’t seen the series in a long time, but I don’t think he was talking to Mishil in the letter. She wasn’t meant to read about her own evil fate, and the letter is clear that the prophecy is against her.

The final section is a fairly long passage featuring Munno, Sohua and the baby.

I’m going to stop here since the story is about to take a great leap in time. I’ll end with a few more important, difficult historical definitions for some of the palace attendants. The medical attendant is a special female lady-in-waiting called a uinyeo (의녀, 醫女). The definition of this term that I found also gives an alternative synonym of uigi (의기, 醫妓). This secondary term is used much later in the Joseon dynasty for a woman who learned simple medical skills and was treated as a member of the female gisaeng entertainment class.

The term shinyeo (시녀, 侍女) is also a more generic term for a court lady that may also be commonly used in the Joseon period. I’m not sure if there are different terms used in the Silla era for these positions or if the Joseon era terminology is just more typically used in all modern historical fiction, but at any rate, this is what they use here in the novel for the Silla ladies-in-waiting.

Part two of a three part series.

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A Cry in the Night With a Quick Linguistic Lesson – Queen Seondeok, Vol. 1 – Part 1

This year, I’m rearranging our reading schedule back to the old order I usually do them in, so I’m starting with my short-term Korean selection, Eunkyeong Ryu’s Queen Seondeok (류은경의 “선덕여왕”), which is a novelized version of the Korean TV show by the same name. It was a very popular show when it came out, and I know it is among my favorites though I haven’t watched it recently. This novelized version comes in a three volume set, so I will look at volume 1 for this go round through the region. The cover has a paper wrapping with a partial secondary cover featuring a photo from the show. The characters here are Mishil and Seondeok, left to right.

Published in 2009, volume 1 runs 343 pages and has front matter printed on thick, pearlized silver paper with a decorative border. It’s a bibliophile’s dream if you’re into print books and feels very nice to the touch; many of these novelized TV shows have spared no expense in the printing. This section includes a character list with descriptions and a chart of character relationships that I will at some point do a modified translation of for you.  The book, therefore, has a very nice presentation.

It also is my first example of a mixed text in Korean, especially with its historical footnotes, which is probably kind of hard for a foreigner to run across. I think in the US there is a very low perception that Korean is structured even remotely like Japanese or still retains anything in common with Chinese since there is an overemphasis on the hangul alphabet to the exclusion of the actual historical development of the language and the limited continuing use of hanja in US pedagogy.  Korean actually does use hanja (though in the US, Chinese characters are usually known by their Japanese name, kanji, rather than either the Korean name hanja or the Chinese name hanzi. These are all the regional pronunciations for the same word/characters  漢字).

Historical novels are no joke anyway in any of these languages, and they should be approached as more advanced texts than novels set in contemporary settings, even for TV tie-ins. They use antiquated language, definitions of words are often not in most Korean-English dictionaries, and verb endings that aren’t explained in most available textbooks. This book has enough of an emphasis on hanja that I’m going to do a quick rundown of the main characters of the novel and give the hanja as well. Every single character listed has hanja for their name as well as hangul.

Here is my abbreviated character list – I’m not switching names to American order just for the sake of my sanity as I read the book:

King Jinpyeong (眞平王) – Deokman’s father, the 26th king of Silla.

Mishil (美實) – Silla’s unsurpassed beauty, power hungry and skilled in seducing kings and hwarang.

Empress Maya (摩耶) – King Jinpyeong’s wife.

Munno (文努) – I’m going to translate this as the 8th Hwarang master. The word used here is a historical title with the hanja 風月主 (p’ungwolju), wind and moon master.

Deokman (德曼) – Silla’s 27th ruler, also known as Queen Seondeok.

Princess Cheonmyeong (天命) – Deokman’s twin sister.

Kim Yushin (金庾信) – The 15th Hwarang master (風月主) and descendant of the rulers of the Korean state of Gaya. He is a well-known historical figure in his own right. He was born in 595 and died in 673 AD.

Bidam  (毗曇) – Mishil’s son with King Jinji and a minister in Queen Seondeok’s court.

Kim Chunchu (金春秋) – Silla’s 29th ruler and Princess Cheonmyeong’s son.

Kin Yongsu (金龍樹) – Son of King Jinji and Princess Cheongmyeong’s husband.

Kim Yongchun (金龍春) – Kim Yongsu’s younger brother and Kim Chunchu’s uncle.

Misaeng (美生) – Mishil’s brother.

Sejong (世宗) – Mishil’s husband.

Seolwon (薛原) – Mishil’s lover.

Wolya (月夜) – The son of Greater Gaya’s Crown Prince Wolkwang.

Seolji (雪地) – A migrant from the fallen Gaya state.

Chilsuk (柒宿) – A character in Mishil’s faction.

Seokpum (石品) – A hwarang with royal blood.

Jukbang (竹方) – A refugee from Gaya.

Kodo (高島) – A character who serves Jukbang like a brother.

Bojong (寶宗) – Mishil’s son with Seolwon.

Hajung (夏宗) – Mishil’s son with Sejong.

Seungman (勝曼) – Silla’s 28th ruler, also known as Queen Jindeok.

Kim Munhui (金文姬) – Kim Chunchu’s wife and Kim Yushin’s younger sister.

Sohua (昭火) – Deokman’s foster mother.

Seori (誓理) – Mishil’s ally and head of a shrine. This is the character whose description I’m least certain of.

Yeomjong (廉宗) – Bidam’s closest advisor among the hwarang.

King Wija (義慈王) – Baekjae’s king during Queen Seondeok’s reign in Silla.

Yeongaesomun (淵蓋蘇文) – Koguryo’s general and government official.

One such historical reference that comes up here that you won’t find in any Korean-English dictionary is 화랑 (hwarang), which is the special military corps of young men during the Silla era that emphasized integrity and artistic cultivation beyond merely fighting. They engaged in writing poetry and other more civilized arts.

The hanja for hwarang, 花郞, it literally means flower gentleman. (I would never translate it as flower boys in US English, though that is a commonly encountered translation, because of the disrespectful way the word boy has historically been used for adult minority men in our country. The word 郞 isn’t a casual word for man or boy anyway but is higher style and can be seen used in words like bridegroom throughout the region.) But you have to be able to read dictionaries that are Korean-Korean, Korean-Japanese, Korean-Chinese or Korean-Spanish to get even the most basic, accurate historical definition of hwarang.  According to historical texts, the hwarang was originally all female, but jealousy and murder among the female leadership caused them to be banned in favor of an all male corps. However, here we have the main villain of the story, Mishil, who is a woman still formally connected to the hwarang.

The story is set in the time of the Three Kingdoms, with some references to the proto-Three Kingdoms states, and focuses on the royal court of the Silla, which puts it roughly in the first thousand years of the common era. Here is a decent map of the region during that era with the incorporation of the Gaya state in it.

Map by Ashraf Kamel, courtesy of the Ancient History Encyclopedia Limited×750/5790.jpg?v=1509309436

I’m going to just look at the first chapter this time, which is split into four parts. This chapter mostly introduces the characters of King Jinheung, the 24th king of Silla who reigned from 540 to 576 AD, and Mishil. It also mentions two other Silla kings, Beopheung his predecessor, and Jinji, his successor who only ruled three years, as well as Baekjae and Koguryeo rulers, too.

The chapter starts off describing the cold wind, the early frost after the harvest, and the Buddhist temple where prayers were going up for King Jinheung to be cured of an illness. It gets very detailed about the Buddhist service’s wooden bells and overnight prayer sessions.

Mishil is introduced next with a very detailed physical description since she is considered so strikingly beautiful, and she is presented in the context of the hwarang.  It also talks some about her intense love affair with her husband Sejong, whom she fell in love with at first sight, and their son together. Sejong was King Beopheung’s grandson through an illicit affair, therefore a relative of King Jinheung and a member of the true bone class rank in society, which was the extended royal family’s class rank as opposed to the king’s closest family’s rank. That’s the best I can tease out the rather complicated relationship described here. Mishil and another character introduced here named Myodo are both one rank below Sejong’s, which would make it sixth rank.

Mishil spends most of the chapter talking with King Jinheung, the Empress and the Crown Prince Dongryun.  In the final section, Mishil goes to King Jinheung’s bedchamber late at night with medicine, but when she knocks on his door and announces herself, he doesn’t answer.  She enters and puts her hand under his nose but doesn’t feel him breathing. She touches his body with a trembling hand. He is as cold as ice. All of the information in the chapter is just preliminary, years before the title character is born, so I’m not going to spend too much time on the minor characters that come up here. But the chapter ends on the dramatic note of the king’s death.

Two long footnotes in the chapter, which feature a lot of mixed text, too, describe the background of Silla Founder Pak Hyeokgeose and Silla Kyeongju Kim Clan founder Kim Alji. There are actually quite a lot more short footnotes in this chapter, considerably more than you usually see in a fictional piece, but those two were the most in-depth.

Part one of a three part series.

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2019 Preliminary Appearance Schedule

The new year is nearly here, and I’ve already got a few events lined up where I’ll be selling my books.

First up will be Steel City Con in Monroeville, PA, from April 12th through 14th:

Then in May, I’ll be at Three Rivers Comic Con in West Mifflin, PA. The event is set for May 11th and 12th:

I’ll be announcing more event dates as we get closer to summer.

Just a programming note for this blog in the new year: I will be switching the Literati Corner back to it’s usual sequence and will start the year reading a different Korean language selection, Queen Seondeok.

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Contemplating Death and Leaving for Pusan – Land, Vol.3, Part 8

Wrapping up volume 3 of story arc one in Kyeongni Park’s monumental literary work, Land (박경리의《토지》) by picking out some highlights , the rest of the novel picks up with the first chapter, “Dispute.” Seohui and Bongsun are sitting by a pond talking about their sadness over the loss of their families in the cholera epidemic.  Bongsun talks about how she wants to see her mom again and wishes she could die, too, but Seohui tells her she couldn’t cope if Bongsun wasn’t there with her. This conversation brings memories of Seohui’s mother Byeoldangasshi, who ran away with a former slave earlier in the novel.  One of the girls angrily curses them both; the dialogue isn’t tagged, so it’s hard to tell, but I’m going to guess it was Bongsun based on Seohui’s reaction to the comments.  She throws sand into Bongsun’s face.

Gilsang and Sudong come on the scene at this point, but Seohui only stops crying when the young hunchbacked boy Byeongsu appears. She surprises everyone by asking Byeongsu if he’ll marry her.  After Wife Yoon’s death, Byeongsu’s mother Hong gets into a big controversy with Seohui over her jewelry, though Hong’s relationship with Seohui hadn’t been good from the beginning, and it had only gotten worse after Wife Yoon’s death.   

The next chapter, “Year of Famine,” declares that 1903 was the year of terrible famine and launches into a description of the people’s level of starvation.  Cho Jungu tries bringing rice into the village, but someone summons for him. Trembling, he runs to a storeroom where a group is assembled which includes Seohui, Bongsun, Yong Lee, Yeongpal and others.  Sudong asks him to give them instructions, but he doesn’t know what they mean. They are concerned that the grain isn’t being evenly divided in the village. After some discussion, he calls for Gilsang. The next day, they all come to the Choi Champan estate where they talk about receiving the favor of the Seoul yangban, Cho Jungu, there.

Moving on to the last chapter in part 4, “Kim Hunjang’s Grudge,” it is Chuseok at the Kim Hungjang household.  Ten days after Chuseok, the fields are golden with a new crop of ripened rice. The rest of the chapter follows character Kim Hungjang, and I have been mostly skipping his storyline.

Turning to the story arc’s last part, “Departing Child, Remaining Child,” which has ten chapters, it starts with the chapter, “Floral Patterned Shoes,” which jumps to mid-July when Wolseon crosses the river to visit a temple to pray to Ksitigarbha about her dead mother during the worship service.  She hears people there talking about Yong Lee and Imineo, about how he bought leather shoes for her in the market, and other about how Imineo had Yong Lee’s baby and was possibly having a second child with him.

In the next section,  Yong Lee goes to see Wolseon at her house, but she isn’t there. He doesn’t think of the significance of the date, so he doesn’t realize she would have gone to the temple for the anniversary of her mother’s death.  I think he wishes Wolseon had given birth to his son instead of Imineo.  A third segment starts off with a rooster crowing at daybreak and shows more of Yong Lee, this time talking with Wolseon about her stay at the temple. This chapter is one of the more memorable ones in the story arc

Skipping around a few chapters, “The Japan-Korea Treaty of 1905” returns to Kim Hunjang and Cho Jungu and the new treaty signed in November, 1905. I talked about both this and the big cholera epidemic when I covered volume 2 in the series earlier this year, so I won’t get into it again here.   

A later, particularly notable chapter in the book focuses on Wife Yoon’s son through rape, Kim Hwan. Titled “The Tonghak General’s Son,” it has three scenes, the first one only a few sentences long set in a dark pine forest. It mentions Kucheon is there alone, but suggests that Byeoldangasshi is probably dead. I’m not sure what either of them have to do with Hwan here, though he is mentioned in the couple of sentences, too.

The second scene features a woman with dialogue addressing someone as “darling” who asks to be helped up, and the next sentence notes her body is as light as a feather.  Hwan wipes her face with a towel, pulls off her socks, wipes her feet, and brushes her hair. Hwan is nearly in tears as he takes care of her. The woman is ill, but the passage doesn’t ever use her name but just calls her “the woman.” I suspect it may be Wife Yoon, his mother, before cholera takes her, though since the earlier passage mentioned Byeoldangasshi, I guess it could be her, too.  At the end of the scene, the woman dies, and Hwan cries as if he’s in a dream.   

The third long scene in the chapter returns to Hwan as he is talking with an old man at a thatched hut deep in the woods. The man is skinning a weasel in the hut’s sunny courtyard.  Hwan addresses him as “esteemed father” as their conversation starts. The old man asks how old Hwan is, and he responds that he is thirty.  Then he asks where Hwan was born, but Hwan is vague about the place.

The old man goes into his kitchen with the weasel and comes out with bowls of porridge for the two of them, which Hwan accepts. Hwan asks if he knows Monk Wugwan. The old man asks if he means he’s looking for the Yeongoksa chanting monk, but Hwan is vague about that, too. The old man mentions Tonghak Army General Kim Kaeju, Monk Wugwan’s brother, which gets Hwan’s attention since that is his father’s name. They discuss Kim Kaeju for awhile before Hwan says goodbye and returns to the road.  

As he leaves, he hears the old man cry out and is reminded of his father, whom Hwan hasn’t thought about for a long time. He didn’t think about his father at all even when he prostrated himself before Wife Yoon’s grave the night before. Hwan talks to his father for a page, perhaps in a flashback to a conversation they once had late at night, then Hwan approaches a temple looking for Monk Wugwan.  The sun is setting when Hwan gets there, and when he introduces himself, it produces a bit of a commotion. Hwan asks to see Monk Wugwan, but Hyegwan comes to the door, so they chat a bit.

The chapter ends with Hwan’ss memory of once meeting his half-brother Choi Chisu before he died. It’s quite a nice chapter in the story arc, one of the best in the first three volumes, and here is the picture that goes with it.

Interior Illustration, Land Volume 3

Skipping ahead for the sake of time, in the final chapter, “People Departing Their Home,” Seohui firmly decides to leave along with Sanghyeon. A number of people are also leaving, including a whole family that I haven’t seen mentioned in the story before. Sanghyeon and Gilsang are looking into whether they can get a boat to take a shortcut to Pusan. People are lined up at the agency where they are waiting.

Wolseon is selling a house that Imineo has vacated, and Sanghyeon and Gilsang are following Wolseon to Pusan.  Wolseon asks Imineo where she and the children will go now that she’s leaving the house and Wolseon is selling it, but Imineo tells her not to worry. Yong Lee, meanwhile, is going with Sanghyeon and Gilsang, too. Bongsun will be traveling separately by palanquin and spends the next few days talking with Gilsang and Yong Lee. The city of Jinju is also mentioned throughout this part, so perhaps this is a stop on the way. It seems like the whole cast of characters I’ve been looking at is moving to Pusan, so it will be interesting to see how the story develops once they are there.

The chapter wraps up with all of the group leaving Hadong and arriving in Pusan on May 15th.

Part eight of an eight part series.

Stay tuned for story arc 2 from Land in 2019 when I will be covering volumes 4 through 6 with the next generation of the clans we have been reading about so far!

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A Cholera Epidemic Wipes Out the Village – Land, Vol.3, Part 7

For volume 3 of story arc one in Kyeongni Park’s monumental literary work, Land (박경리의《토지》) , I’m going to consolidate my original three post plan into just two. The volume is small anyway, like the others have been, so that shouldn’t be too difficult. So this time I will cover some of part 4, titled “Plague and Revolution” in the table of contents, though the section title page has the slightly different variation of “Plague and a Year of Famine.”  This section has nine chapters, and the chapter titles suggest some tragedy ahead in the story.

Chapter 1, “Guests from Seoul,” starts off with Cho Jungu observing a woman in a palanquin passing by. The woman stops to talk with him, and it’s clear she and the handsome, hunchbacked little boy with her are coming from Seoul.  The text gets into a detailed description of the woman, whom the little boy appears to be afraid of, and she’s wearing a jade green skirt and white summer jacket.  Gilsang is reprimanded for dawdling since he is supposed to serve the woman, and he shows her into the detached house while Jungu goes elsewhere.

When Bongsunneo arrives, the woman, whose name is Hong, asks about a seamstress and demands washing water to be brought to her quickly. She barks a lot of orders and calls the servants names while the boy clings to her skirt. Hong wanders into Seohui’s room where Seohui is writing a letter. Thinking the girl is rude and another of the servants, Hong calls for Bongsunneo. The little boy’s name is Byeongsu, and the women discuss his age and Seohui’s, determining that since she is ten and he is twelve, it is improper for Byeongsu to have entered her room due to the Confucian age restrictions on mixed company after age seven as a safeguard on morality. Seohui tells Bongsunneo to show the guests into the guest parlor, where Samwol comes with the washing water. Hong and Byeongsu wash up there, and Hong puts on her makeup as Seohui continues writing back in her quarters.

Next, we see Cho Jungu and Wife Yoon elsewhere in the house, alert to their coming since they can hear them, and they discuss finding their guests a vacant room. When Hong meets Wife Yoon, she asks them why women are in the men’s quarters, then mentions Seohui’s quarters and other parts of the estate, such as the detached house, the garden, the lotus pond. It turns out that Hong is Cho Jungu’s wife, and she blames her son’s hunchbacked condition on him. Meanwhile, the servants have a lot to say about these extraordinary guests. The chapter wraps up with a visit between Wife Yoon and Kim Seobang a few days later while Cho Jungu puts his family in the back wing of the house.

There are a few vocabulary words that I want to bring up here since they are old fashioned and maybe not that easy to find if you are attempting to read historical novels in Korean:

남녀칠세부동석 (男女七歲不同席) – this refers to a Confucian idea that children over the age of seven of different sexes shouldn’t mix

사랑 – usually this word means “love,” but it comes up in historical novels a lot with the meaning of either the men’s quarters of the house or the parlor of the men’s or general quarters used for receiving guests.

오라버니 – this is a term that I have heard in historical TV shows and nowhere else, and it means a girl’s older brother. The modern term most typically used would be 오빠.

In the next chapter “Cholera,” Kim Seobang arrives at the Choi Champan household at night, his body aching. They put a mattress on the floor for him to rest on, but he has to run out and vomit because he’s so sick. Nothing seems to stop the symptoms, and he is so ill everyone thinks he’s going to die.  They consider that a lot of people have died in recent years, like Choi Chisu and Guinyeo who died under quite different circumstances earlier in the novel, but news comes from the village that Yong Lee’s wife Kang Cheongtake has also died.  An epidemic of cholera has been sweeping the are and affecting them.

The second section of this chapter returns to the Choi Champan household, where their daily life has become seriously disrupted due to the disease just like the village’s has. The village is suffering under a dark cloud of anxiety with the epidemic, and it’s really turning out to be a bad year for everyone. When Wife Yoon dies, the Choi Champan household falls into ruin, and Gilsang and Seohui also fall ill. Bongsun, who lost her mother in the epidemic, is crazy with fear of dying.

In the next chapter “Life & Death,” the story returns to Yong Lee sitting in his garden looking at the sky.  He’s miserable, and Imineo, whom he has a child with, hasn’t shown up today.  There are some doubts about the nature of his wife Kang Cheongtaek’s death, however, with people questioning Imineo’s role.  The rest of the chapter continues with conversations between Yong Lee and Imineo.

In the next two chapters, this storyline continues and adds Yong Lee’s former love Wolseon to the mix. Yong Lee is talking with Yeongpal at the market, where rumors of Wolseon’s return are spreading, and Yong Lee trembles when she finally appears. They catch up on what has happened in the village. The story then returns to the subject of Kang Cheongtaek’s death and Imineo giving birth to Yong Lee’s son as it shows Makttakneo gossiping a bit with Yamuneo before finishing up with Yong Lee at the inn.   

In “Wu Guan Leaves the Temple,” the story changes gears entirely and pivots briefly to a visit with the Buddhist monk. Someone is running around the village yelling about Japanese soldiers at the beginning. The story spreads around the village quickly, and the villagers come out to watch the Japanese troops passing in the distance. Monk Wugwan appears. Now he’s over seventy with shaggy white eyebrows hanging over his eyes, though he still looks imposing.  Kim Hunjang greets him, and the men mostly discuss Seohui, whom Kim Hunjang has been teaching to write for a number of years.  They realize she is in a situation where she has no one to rely upon anymore.

I’m going to stop there and finish the book in the next post.

Part seven of an eight part series.

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The Arrival of the Spirit Guardian Hanyuu Furude – The Festival Accompanying Chapter, Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni Kai, Vol.2, Part 3

Finishing up Ryukishi Zeronana’s When the Cicada’s Cry: The Festival Accompanying Chapter, Volume 2 (竜騎士07の”ひぐらしのなく頃に解:祭囃し編”), the next major section of the novel begins with nine short chapters referencing earlier story arcs in the series. All of them have the word カケラ in the title, but I can’t get a clear definition of this word even though it’s very prominently used in the text. Any suggestions would be helpful.   

The first chapter we come upon that looks particularly intriguing is “カケラ’s Trash,” which is a very long section that starts off with a brief segment in larger font about fate.  Then the main character in the next segment turns out to be Officer Akasaka, though there’s a lot of references made to an embassy and international diplomacy, which is rather startling since the anime never pulls back to get an international view. This segment is very long, with Akasaka is hanging out in the business district, but I’m going to skip it for the sake of time.

Towards the end of the chapter, we come to another segment that starts talking about his wife Yukie who fell and died in the hospital but also mentions the Great Hinamizawa Disaster and the way Rika Furude predicted her murder five years before. Even the fact that Rika was gutted alive comes up. I don’t think we’ve talked about the details of her murder much in the two story arcs I’ve been looking at from the series, though I think the very brutal type of death she suffers over and over wouldn’t sound as shocking to the Japanese since seppuku/harakiri was regularly done during the Edo period and was attested to as far back as 1,000 years according to online sources I consulted. To a Westerner, however, it’s a luridly shocking type of murder, especially for a little girl to endure. Perhaps the connection to seppuku gives it a deeper meaning when Takano uses it on Rika? According to Wikipedia, it was also used as a form of capital punishment.  But  I’m getting off topic here. This segment ends with the speaker repeating  a few times not to give up.

The final section of the chapter repeats over and over at intervals “Thank you, Akasaka,” and ends with a request for him to help them. It refers to his feelings of regret and how he was god-fearing enough to start thinking he should pray. Following this sequence on Akasaka, we get a tenth brief section referring to the current story arc titled “Festival Accompanying Chapter’s カケラ.”

The next chapter begins with this drawing, which has the caption, “Transfer Student Hanyuu Furude.” Hanyuu is typically portrayed with horns I assume to show she’s really not human and is the spirit behind the shrine deity Oyashiro-sama, but her appearance at this point really is quite meaningful on multiple levels. Of course, Rika is hoping they can perform a miracle and break free of the time warp where Rika is repeatedly murdered by unknown government agents over and over, but it’s also notable that she comes at a time when Rika has no other human relatives, her remaining relatives, her parents, murdered by Takano because of their opposition to Takano using Rika as a test subject.

We have a lot of orphans in this story, all with varying outcomes. Satoko ends up with the worst of the lot, a stepfather with criminal connections who has controversial political positions that make them hated pariahs in the community. Takano loses her family in an accident, too, but she escapes a cruel orphanage by a miracle and is taken in by a gentle professor who provides her with a certain amount of prestige, a safe home, incredible educational opportunities and political connections. Rika, whose family was happy enough before their murder, had great prestige as the heir to the village shrine and her purported supernatural abilities due to being that heir and the reincarnation of the shrine deity. She never would have become an orphan if it hadn’t been for Takano’s spiteful focus on her. It almost comes off like some weird sort of jealousy of the young girl’s mystical position in the community, so it makes a certain sense that Rika would end up with a supernatural parent-type figure, though Hanyuu is seen as another school-age student like Rika even if I think she was an adult when she died in the distant past. This form Hanyuu takes masks something much more powerful.

As the title of the section points out, Hanyuu is introduced as a transfer student related to Rika, which is explained away as Hanyuu being a distant relative. Comparisons are made to other transfer students Rena Ryugu and Keiichi Maebara, but when they ask Hanyuu about where she is from and why she came to Hinamizawa, the responses she gives are vague.  They only talk about how she lived far away. As planned, she gets pulled into Rika’s circle of friends as they play “the punishment game.”

Next, in the chapter “Akasaka and Tokyo,” someone is giving a speech for a toast at a banquet, and it reminds me of some of the sections I read in volume 1 with Professor Takano and his war connections. The toast does include references to the war, this time to “Japan’s unconditional surrender,” troop withdrawal and such, with many of the speech’s statements ending with double exclamation points again. After it winds down, someone talks with Akasaka, and they decide to go to table F to talk to an old woman sitting there.  Akasaka introduces himself and says he called the day before to set an appointment to speak with her.  The story then moves on to a separate segment showing the interview. It seems there is something up with the use of public funds and official documents, which leads him to the Irie Clinic in Hinamizawa and the kidnapping case involving Minister Inuki’s grandson a few years earlier that Akasaka had investigated in Hinamizawa.

“Hanyuu and Everyone” is told from Keiichi’s perspective using the “I” ore and situates Hanyuu in their circle of school friends more firmly as they joke around. The perspective must change after a line break a few pages in since the “I” has now become watashi,though I’m not sure who it is. Usually Rika or Keiichi have been using the more distinctive forms, so the reader has to be on their toes with the rapidly changing perspectives without a consistent signal like a chapter heading. It’s a very unusual artistic choice, but I guess by the end of the series, when there are 15 books or so before this one,the reader should be able to pick up on it.

This section gets into the three ruling families of Hinamizawa and continues to focus on Hanyuu and her history. It seems she came from a wandering tribe and had to coexist with some indigenous villagers. This is where it gets into the mixing of their blood and the demon blood heritage in the villagers ultimately making it hard to determine whether they were human or demon, ancient documents in the forbidden part of the shrine that talk about some of this, and other very interesting topics. One part mentions that the Shinto priest exorcises the “fierce god” (鬼神, onigami) by doing this terrible ceremony where they pulled out the intestines and floated them downstream, the ancient version of the cotton-drifting festival.  The corpse of the victim is then buried in the swamp.  This is the time Hanyuu comes from. Later, there is a conversation about Hanyuu’s horn.

Closer to the end of this chapter, the font changes and is boldfaced, and it seems to be coming from either Rika’s or Hanyuu’s perspective since it starts something like, “It’s a child’s duty to bury their parents.” I’m leaning toward saying this is Hanyuu’s perspective since the expression for mother used here is a rather odd-looking “母上” (hahaue) that the dictionary notes was a pre-Meiji era term for mother used in samurai families, which would fit Hanyuu’s background as a spirit of the dead from hundreds of years before. It is a really disturbing set of brief passages on the subject with emphasis on horned demons and children killing parents. Then, in the middle of a sentence where Rika and Hanyuu are talking about Takano, there’s a huge bakemono (monster) written in katakana that takes up half the page at the beginning of the next page as they continue their discussion of Hanyuu remembering that Takano is the one with malicious intent after they encounter Takano and Tomitake. 

I’ll just briefly give the basic idea of the chapters finishing up the book. In “Akasaka Once Again,” Akasaka and Detective Ooishi are in Tokyo carousing together, but they discuss their fears regarding the death of Rika’s parents, Rika’s safety, and their plans to come to Hinamizawa.  The chapter “Hanyuu Transmits a Memory” gets more into Hanyuu’s restored memory of Takano killing Rika during their last cycle reliving her murder. They try to figure out from that bit of recollection who else might be helping Takano with her dirty deed and decide that the Yamainu also would be their enemy, Irie, too. They debate Tomitake’s position in this, though he is also murdered eventually.  In the brief chapter “Countdown to the End,” someone named Nomura is on the phone talking about Hinamizawa Syndrome and referring to the “lady” and her grandfather, the “lady” probably being Takano though Takano’s name isn’t mentioned that I noticed glancing over the passage.

The next three chapters are a string of consultations with various characters that runs about 75 pages and kicks off with a cute drawing of Rika and all of her friends captioned “the greatest friends.” About halfway through that is another drawing of Rika talking in the distance to Takano and Tomitake captioned “trusted adults.” However, we start off with Irie, and when Rika tries to tell him she thinks Takano plans to kill her, he wants to know why she thinks this and surmises it may be a sign of acute illness. Of course, he’s thinking in terms of the different levels of Hinamizawa Syndrome, and paranoia is part of the level 5 cluster of symptoms if I recall. He wonders if she might have level 5.

When that discussion ends on a tepid note with Irie finally admitting it could be possible Takano wants to kill her, Rika moves on. In “Consultation with Club Members,” Rika talks with her group of school friends about the Hinamizawa Syndrome research she has been involved with and her fate that she will be murdered by Takano, seeking their help to stop Takano. Their older friend Mion Sonozaki is the most prominently involved in the discussion.

The final chapter, “Consultation with Tomitake,” which is 50 pages long and primarily features a conversation between Tomitake and Rika about Takano and to a lesser degree Irie, ends with the comment that it is fated for Tomitake to be killed in three days and anticipates the night of June 16th. The story will continue in volume 3, which we’ll look at in 2019.  

Part three of a three part series.

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