Today we will finish up volume two of the first story arc of Kyeongni Park’s monumental novel Land (박경리의《토지》). The story kicks off in the next chapter with Wife Yoon and more details on how her son Choi Chisu was the last male in the Choi line and how the Choi household had been Pyeongsari’s richest for 100 years. Many people came to Choi Chisu’s funeral, but his young daughter Seohui is alone at the funeral. Kim Pyeongsan is surrounded by people at it, too, and he talks awhile with Kim Hunjang while scanning the crowd for any sign of Guinyeo.
The village women start to talk about who they think the father of Guinyeo’s baby may be, even speculating that it was the yangban at the Choi Champan house, meaning Choi Chisu. Chilseong appears late in the chapter to add his two cents to this conversation, not revealing the truth.
People in the village don’t really believe Ttochulneo killed Choi Chisu and felt the matter hasn’t been settled. Yong talks with Chilseong, then Bongsunneo suggests to a weeping Wife Yoon that she should investigate Guinyeo’s situation. Confronting Guinyeo, she demands to know the identity of the baby’s father. Guinyeo starts to cry as well and responds “Please kill me” repeatedly. (I should note here for people unfamiliar with East Asian historical dramas that such over-the-top self abasement is pretty standard for lower class characters to say to upper class characters.)
Wife Yoon also suspects there is a connection between Guinyeo’s baby and Chisu’s death, and Guinyeo tells her that the baby’s father is dead, giving the impression the baby could be Chisu’s. Angry, Wife Yoon tells her to get out. Guinyeo screams not to touch her, but two men grab her legs and drag her through the garden to a storeroom. Guinyeo goes wild as they shut her in the storeroom and lock it, keeping her in there three days and nights without water before Wife Yoon goes looking for her again.
This time during their confrontation, Wife Yoon blames Guinyeo for killing her son, and Guinyeo just smiles a little. Again, Wife Yoon demands to know who the baby’s father is and taunts her with the promise of letting her drink some water if she will answer the question. Guinyeo breaks down and finally admits reluctantly that the baby’s father is Chilseong. Wife Yoon leaves the storeroom and goes to get Chilseong, who confesses everything.
The narrative shifts from Guinyeo’s ordeal to the house of Kim Pyeongsan. His garden has a dead apricot tree with a body hanging in it, and his son Keobok is calling for his brother and mother. Pyeongsan’s wife Hamantaek has hanged herself there, and Makttalneo hears the boy’s cry and is the first to come out to see what is the matter. The men run out behind her. Hamantaek’s dead body is hanging from the tree and is soaked in the rain. Everyone is rushing around, and the crows, smelling death, cry from the rooftop. A couple of the men take down the softening rope and the body while everyone mourns her.
Imineo in particular is thrown into confusion at her death. She is crying, striking her chest, and pulling at her hair. There is some doubt among them about Hamantaek’s husband Pyeongsan. Did he murder her? It seems that the revelations about Pyeongsan’s scheme with the “water demon”, that “wench” Guinyeo played a role in Hamantaek’s suicide. Imineo falls to the ground in a faint in the middle of this conversation about Pyeongsan and Guinyeo. The chapter closes with Pyeongsan’s sons Keobok and Hanbok preparing their mother’s grave under the pine trees in the mountains and Yong talking with them about it. The boys, who may be as young as Seohui, go down the road unaccompanied by any adults. By the time they come down from the mountain and reach the village, it is sunset.
Meanwhile, Kim Pyeongsan is thrown into a hellishly cruel jail where he is tortured every day and given only one meal. He tries to defend himself before the district magistrate, but he is dragged out and tied to the rack. The magistrate also questions Guinyeo and Chilseong about the matter, and Pyeongsan and Chilseong are later executed then left to be eaten by wild animals. Guinyeo’s execution is postponed until her baby is born, however. Kang Posu goes to visit her in jail, they talk awhile. He gives her his hand through the grate as they talk about her regrets. When she has her baby, he takes it away and disappears. In the character sheet in the back of the book, we learn she had a boy named Kang Tume.
The next chapter follows Tumanneo and her family with some interaction with Kim Pyeongsan’s sons, but since I haven’t been following that storyline, I’m going to skip this part.
Then we pick up with Seohui three years after Choi Chisu’s death. Seohui will later become a major figure tying the novel’s story arcs together, but for now I’m not going to get into her storyline too much just yet. Gilsang also makes an appearance in this chapter, and he is now 16 years old. Toward the end of the chapter, Yong encounters Imineo as he is doing some errand, and she is carrying a child on her back while two other children walk ahead of her. Although the family trees in the back of the book only have her down as having two children, one with Chilseong, she actually had three with Chilseong. I guess they weren’t included there since they aren’t named like her oldest child.
Later in the chapter, we discover that Yong has tried to make things work with his wife Kang Cheongtaek after Wolseon left, but his effort didn’t amount to anything. The story then shifts to Yong, Imineo and the village women for a few chapters before there is a break in the narrative that jumps back to the Choi Champan household for the next few chapters.
In the final chapter of the volume, Imineo and her family are starving in the village as winter arrives. Since Imineo’s husband Chilseong was a murderer, the villagers are ill-disposed toward her. Kang Cheongtaek comes to berate her all of the time now although Imineo is sweet and good-natured. She threatens to bite Imineo to death. When Imineo’s daughter Imi asks Kang Cheongtaek why she is attacking her mother, Kang Cheongtaek turns her wrath onto the girl. She accuses Imineo of stealing her husband Yong, and so Imi calls for Yong to intervene. He helps Imineo up off the floor where she has collapsed and tells Kang Cheongtaek that Imineo is pregnant with his child! This statement understandably stuns Kang Cheongtaek, and she faints.
The village elders are dumbfounded by all of this. Yong spends some time thinking back to when his mother was alive, and the volume ends with him going to the market to look for the missing Wolseon, where he hears rumors of her return.
There’s one more volume in this story arc, which I plan to get to in December, but let me mention again that the entire 12 volume series really hinges on the character of Choi Seohui. This first story arc that we’re reading now goes from 1897 to 1908, the second story arc runs from 1910 to around 1918, story arc three from 1919 to 1929, and the final two story arcs we’ll read together go from 1930 to 1945. So we have a lot more soap opera style drama to dig into. For now, though, we’re still in the early years.
Part six of a nine part series.
Next time: We return to China with volume two of the Remembrance of Earth series!