At the Crossroads of Life and Death – Land, Vol.2, Part 5


The section and chapter titles of the second volume of Kyeongni Park’s Land (박경리의《토지》) are pretty provocative, and it seems we’re in for quite a dramatic twist to the plot at this point in the series. The brief, three chapter Part II’s title is “Pursuit and Conspiracy,” and Part III, which makes up the bulk of the book, has “The Crossroads of Life and Death” for its title. Glancing down the list of chapter titles, I can see the story arc takes us into very interesting territory.

Part II has only three chapters, and the opening paragraph of volume 2 literally starts off with a bang and foreshadows ominous things to come:

나무 사이로 무엇인가 움직이는 것이 보였다. 그것을 향해 총이 겨누어졌다.
“구천아!”
(p.12)

He saw something moving between the trees and pointed a gun at it.
“Kucheon!”
(My translation)

Kang Posu and Choi Chisu are walking through the forest in the mountains with their servant Sudong, searching for Kucheon and Byeoldangasshi a year after they ran off together. They think they see Kucheon, and after shooting the gun, the sound ricocheting off the trees, Choi Chisu yells for one of the men to grab him. Kang Posu says Kucheon has vanished before they could capture him, and the men chase after him.

After wandering over the mountain a good while, they discover a small thatched hut that shows traces that someone was recently there but which is already empty. A woman’s hemp shoes lay on the ground, and Chisu is certain this is proof that the couple was there, so he heads toward the hut, firing his gun.

Land v.2.1.jpg

Chisu knows Sudong probably intentionally let Kucheon get away because of Sudong’s bond with the servant, and after searching for a number of days for the wayward couple, he considers shooting Sudong. However, he decides he can forgive Sudong’s actions and thinks Sudong would also feel a sense of guilt due to loyalty to Choi Chisu. Since the chuseok holiday is near again, Choi Chisu comes down from the mountain to prepare, but he is no longer full of life, only full of melancholy.

Meanwhile, Wife Yoon gets a letter from Monk Wugwan. Of course, she had a son Hwan with Wugwan’s younger brother Kim Kaeju, and the brief letter is about the boy. Choi Chisu returns and sinks into a deep silence for a few days before talking about going back out hunting. Wife Yoon reflects on her relationship with both of her sons, Chisu and Hwan.

When Chisu takes a nap, Bongsunneo comes in to remind Wife Yoon that she has been neglecting Seohui for months, and they talk about Wolseonneo and her daughter- businesswoman Wolseon. Wife Yoon remembers her now dead friend Wolseonneo vividly, dancing with a trident in one hand and a bell and fan in the other, and considers her a genuine shaman in a neighborhood full of shaman. The chapter closes noting that Seohui is out playing with Bongsun at the lotus pond .

In the next chapter, Bongsun and Seohui are talking at the beginning, but Bongsun has a fit of anger, and the scene shifts to Bongsunneo doing her needlework. Bongsun asks her mother about their plans for the New Year celebration, explaining that she wants to see the mask dance in town like they did last year. Her mother doesn’t answer her request, so Bongsun goes on about also visiting Wolseon. Bongsunneo scolds her to stop fretting about it. Bongsun also praises Wolseon’s rice cake soup, which she considers tastier than their family’s own version.

Bongsun continues to admire the mask dance performers, who are all beautiful like the fugitive wife of Choi Chisu, Byeoldangasshi. She also talks about singing and is dumbfounded by her mother’s negative comments. Bongun is so impressed with the women who dance and sing, who look beautiful and wear silk like Bongsun wishes to, but her mother knows these women all sell their bodies. She doesn’t want her daughter to become a performer. It turns out that Bongsun’s grandfather and father were both performers, and her father even performed Korean classical opera.

Bongsun goes outside and meets Gilsang. Since he was raised in a Buddhist temple, he heard a lot about hell, and he talks to Bongsun about sinners being punished in an iron mortar and pestle; being eaten by lions, tigers, and eagles; being put on an iron skewer to roast on a fire. All of this scares Bongsun.

The third chapter in this section follows Lee Yong and Kang Cheongtaek. Lee Yong is staying close to home where he is isolated, though his heart is still far from his friends and his wife. These days, Kang Cheongtaek is blazing with jealousy toward Imineo and fantasizes about shredding Imineo with her teeth. Lee Yong often goes to the mountains or to the ferry to see Wolseon.

After a bit of gossip in the women’s quarters where the topic of Kang Cheongtaek’s childlessness comes up, Kang Cheongtaek goes to her mother-in-law’s grave at midnight to sit alone, where she mutters to herself about her difficult marital situation. Lee Yong’s mother’s memorial service is approaching, and Kang Cheongtaek needs to buy a few things to prepare for it, so Lee Yong goes to town and stops by Wolseon’s inn, where he stands transfixed. A peddler of fancy goods passes by and talks with him, mentioning that Wolseon is out. Lee Yong was supposed to meet her at the market, which is now rather slow due to winter approaching. It will now be deserted until the Lunar New Year festival.

When he gets home, he has a fight with Kang Cheongtaek, who thinks he went to meet Imineo. Her voice is low and gloomy, as if it were coming from deep in the earth. He laughs at her and tells her to go in the house. The next day, they bathe and conduct the memorial service for his mother, then they make the rounds at a few houses with food.

In part 3, “At the Crossroads of Life and Death,” the first chapter is titled “A Minor Incident,” but the situation is quite dramatic. The scene begins at Tumanneo’s house where she is making clothes out of silk and talking with Hamantaek about someone’s marriage meeting. This discussion is interrupted by someone, I think Seohui, yelling outside for Tummaneo, who opens the door and looks outside. Hamantaek’s son with Kim Pyeongsan, Kim Keobok, is up to no good. Hamantaek goes pale, and Seohui is stuttering about how serious the situation is, explaining that Keobok hit Bongsun, and she’s bleeding. She declares that Bongsun is dead at the well where they were drawing water. The group rushes out, and someone is yelling for Keobok.

Tumanneo becomes bloodstained from handling Bongsun’s “dead body,” but they manage to revive her with water and see that she is still alive after all. She just has a bloody nose. Tumanneo hugs Bongsun and takes her back to the Choi household with  Seohui and another character named Seon. They explain the true situation to Hamantaek, who starts to cry, relieved. That night, however, Keobok doesn’t return home, and the next few pages portray a family scene with Hamantaek and her two sons.

The second chapter in this section now returns to Guinyeo, Kim Hunjang, and Kim Pyeongsan. Kim Hunjang is walking down the village road from the ferry, and he meets Kim Pyeongsan’s son Keobok. Then the story briefly reflects on Pyeongsan’s family. When Hunjang returns home, his daughter serves him a lunch of rice in bean paste soup and kimchi.

That night after dark, Pyeongsan secretly meets the pregnant Guinyeo at the bottom of the mountain. She emphasizes she must give birth to a son, and he tries to convince her she will have to bear the child regardless of whether it’s a son or daughter. Their discussion is interrupted by Ttochulneo.

The third chapter is ominously titled, “Murder.” While we got the fake out last time with Bongsun’s apparent death, we’re going to get the real thing this time. Everyone at the Choi household is busy, especially in the kitchen, and Guinyeo, Wife Yoon and Choi Chisu are shopping with Seohui in the market. It’s quite a list of items they put in their bamboo basket on this trip: dried persimmons, jujubes, chestnuts, walnuts, pine nuts, gingko nuts, sesame seeds and ginger.

Meanwhile, the village women are preparing for the New Year’s festival since it’s now the last day of December. The text notes that Seohui misses her mother. Bongsun’s scarred but beautiful face is mentioned in passing, though I must have missed the significance of the scars. Guinyeo takes a table full of food and stands before the men’s quarters, calling out to Choi Chisu that she has brought his lunch. When he calls her to come in, he stares at her waistline silently as she sets  his food down, then she returns to the kitchen where the other village women are talking.

Later when Guinyeo goes back to get the meal tray, Chisu demands that she hand over documentation of her marriage with Kang Posu since she is pregnant. He assumes Kang Posu is responsible for her condition. She is shocked and pretends not to know what he’s talking about. She actually declares to him that she hates Kang Posu, which angers Chisu. After she leaves with the meal tray, Choi Chisu tells Wife Yoon Guinyeo is married to Kang Posu.

Later, Guinyeo meets with Pyeongsan. She tells Pyeongsan she will ruin “that man,” meaning Chisu. They make plans to meet later that night at the same hall where Guinyeo went through the special ceremony with Chilseong when they conceived the baby. When Pyeongsan arrives at their arranged meeting spot, he reflects on how he’s afraid of Guinyeo. When she arrives, they talk about where Chisu was staying, drinking a bit of liquor. She is ranting a bit but doesn’t discuss the specific method she has in mind for murdering Choi Chisu.

In the next scene, Pyeongsan approaches a thatched hut and quietly opens the door. This part of the text is very detailed in its description of the moment and is quite intense as a result. Pyeongsan can hear breathing. Someone asks, “Who’s there?” A fire is lit in the small room, but he approaches the large room. It turns out that Hamantaek, his wife, is waiting there, so it’s not actually the scene of murder the reader would perhaps expect next. She thinks he was having a dream, but he ends up punching her for some reason. Pyeongsan seems to me so far to be an all around unsavory sort of guy.

Suddenly, elsewhere in the village someone yells “Fire,” and people stream out of the Choi household. Kim Seobang goes into a thatched house yelling for Choi Chisu. He finds Choi Chisu dead there, pulls him out of the house, and tells someone to seize Ttochulneo. However, the pavilion collapsed, and Ttochulneo apparently has burned to death. It notes that Choi Chisu was the last of the male line of the Choi household.

Next post, I’ll finish up volume 2 of this story arc.

Part five of a nine part series.

About Lady Xiansa

Lady Xiansa is a writer, linguist, artist, and dancer. She has been a core volunteer for the Silk Screen Asian Arts Organization from 2007 to 2018 and has provided content for Pitt JCS anime events since 2011. She has taught both ESL and Beginning Korean. Her gothic horror novel, The Haunting at Ice Pine Peak, won the Bronze Award for Young Adult Fiction E-book in the 2016 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards and earned the 2018 Story Monsters Approved Seal in the Tween Category.
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