The Death of a Little Bird – Land, Vol.4, Part 2

This will be a quick interim post continuing to look at Kyeongni Park’s Land series (박경리의《토지》). We’re in the second story arc, picking up the narrative with chapter six, “Jeongho’s Question.” This chapter follows some new characters, but it’s really interesting. It starts off with Song Janghwan asking an audience if they know how big the nation used to be, pointing out the land mass of ancient Goguryo on a map. He is in a classroom and has put the maps for Joseon and Manchuria on the board as he talks about their ancestors.

This chapter also includes discussions on the Independence Movement and its activists, the state and king. They ponder how to school their children and the issue of Joseon writing versus its spoken language before the text gets into details about the school they are visiting, which has students from ages 10 to 15.

In the next chapter, “Death of a Small Bird,” the story returns to familiar character Gilsang and is split into two scenes. In the first scene, Gilsang is walking with Song Janghwan and talking about school matters and the children’s behavior. He returns to an inn in Hanyang, or maybe Huiryeong. I’m not really sure where Huiryeong is, but it seems to be near Hanyang, and it’s a major setting in the novel. Gilsang goes to his room at the inn and begins to read the paper. A female attendant comes in, and Gilsang is moved by her great beauty as she arranges his mattress and coverlet. He drinks to his heart’s content while it rains hard outside.

In the chapter’s second scene the following day, the rain has stopped. A child named Oki has some medical problem and reminds Gilsang of an oriole chick he took in the year before during the rainy summer. In a flashback scene, he finds the chick starving to death in the forest and brings it home. Feeding it sesame powder, he’s concerned it will get an upset stomach if it eats too much. He names it Nari and observes the bird likes grasshoppers and earthworms.  When he walks through the grasslands at night, he hears the sound of the grasshoppers singing in the bushes. Earthworms wiggle under his finger when he looks for them. However, in spite of his efforts, the chick ultimately dies.

Returning to the present with Kim Hunjang and Oki, they are concerned that Oki is eating enough. The next day it rains again. Gilsang watches the downpour from the garden, thinking about the death of his pet bird, the death of the grasshoppers, and comparing their deaths to Oki’s situation. This whole chapter has a nicely meditative feel and is one of my favorites. The illustration supports the mood perfectly, too.

Chapter eight, “Sanghyeon Returns to Home, ” begins with a contrast. This scene takes place in bright sunshine. A man is coming down the road, and Seohui appears at the door to the women’s quarters to greet him. When the man Sanghyeon arrives, she asks if Gilsang is with him, but he tells her Gilsang went to Huiryeong. They sit down together, and she pulls out a drinking table where she places two cups. As they have a drink together, he mentions Gilsang heard news that her mother Byeoldangasshi has returned, but they change the subject fairly quickly, talking about the state of the country and finding a suitable husband for Seohui. She whispers Gilsang’s name as her best prospect, but he laughs at her because GIlsang is from the servant class and she is aristocracy. She turns pale.

When Sanghyeon leaves, he doesn’t return to the house that night. It seems he stays at the school, and he talks with Song Janghwan the next day. Song Janghwan questions him about his whereabouts the night before, but Sanghyeon avoids answering him. The next day, Song Janghwan gets a letter from Sanghyeon, who has apparently moved on. The scene ends with Song Janghwan putting the letter on his desk and going out for a smoke.

In chapter nine, “Butterfly on a Summer Night,” Gilsang is back in town, and he and Seohui are sitting on the floor. Their meeting is tense, and Seohui wonders if she made a mistake. They talk for awhile about Wolseon’s shop before Gilsang goes out into the street. He notices that something odd is going on between Seohui and Sanghyeon, but meanwhile he has met the woman Okineo in Huiryeong. Out in the street, Gilsang takes the route running between of a dozen or so shops and meets Kong Noin. The chapter’s second scene continues with Kong Noin, Imineo and Lee Hong.

Part 2 of this volume is titled “Love and Hate” and also has nine chapters.  Its first chapter, “Wicked Business,” features the New Citizens’ Association, which was organized in 1907 to oppose Japanese rule and founded its own school. Indeed, we return in this part to Song Janghwan, who was shown at a school a few chapters back. Some of the names checked in the chapter intro include historical members of this association.

The school is set up in military style to form students to work in the independence movement, and around 600 members of the movement have been arrested from Joseon, so trouble is always swirling around them. A servant tells Song Janghwan that a guest has arrived, and Song Janghwan asks who it is. It seems a new teacher, Yoon Yibyeong, has come to the school.

When he meets Yoon Yibyeong, Song Janghwan suggests they go for a walk along the river, and they talk about money. Yoon Yibyeong asks for an advance of 20 won on his salary, which Song Janghwan agrees to.  It turns out Yoon Yibyeong had hoped to get married three years earlier to a woman named Shim Gumnyeo, which could literally translate to golden girl. Her father was a drunk and a gambler, and Yoon Yibyeong needs the money as a ransom for her. She may have been kidnapped, if I’m understanding this right.  It turns out she is with Kim Dusu (whom we knew in the first story arc as Kim Keobok, son of Kim Pyeongsan), so Yoon Yibyeong goes to his house. Kim Dusu punches Yoon Yibyeong in the jaw, but they start to drink and talk about Gumnyeo outside afterward.

The next chapter, “By the Sea,” continues this storyline, though it appears Kim Dusu and Gumnyeo are now in Hunchun, a city in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture of China up near modern North Korea and Russia. He discusses with someone whether they are married, and the text mentions Kim Dusu’s unpleasant appearance, though Gumnyeo also is hardly considered a beauty. They eventually arrive at an inn and are in town to meet his nephew, but the impression I’m left with is that she isn’t exactly with him voluntarily. By the end of the chapter, she has been taken away by two men, and Kim Dusu is searching for her.

The next few chapters follow the storyline of Lee Yong and his family and friends, but I’m going to skip that part of the story for this volume.

Chapter 6, “Dividing a Dedicated Heart, ” starts off with Seohui upset at hearing reports that Gilsang has taken a woman with him to Huiryeong. However, Gilsang never promised to marry Okineo and hasn’t thought seriously about taking Okineo  as a marriage partner, but rumors are still spreading about them, and they have gotten back to Seohui. Although she still has some relationship with Gilsang, Seohui feels very jealous, defeated and hateful over the situation.

The scene rapidly shifts as Seohui goes to the school to visit Yoon Yibyeong.  Meanwhile, Gilsang returns to the inn in Huiryeong and begins to read a book he borrowed from Song Janghwan called “The Revolutionary Army.” He has a meal before leaving the inn.

By the end of the volume, Seohui hears that Gilsang is ill, and so she goes to the inn in Huiryeong to find out the details. When she angers Gilsang, she then goes to find Okineo.

So far I think this is the volume I have liked the best in the saga. Next time on the Literati Corner break, I’ll move on to the next volume to continue the story.

Part two of a six 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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