Korean American Books

Summaries and reviews of fiction and nonfiction books by Korean American authors,
books about Korean Americans and Korea, and Korean literature in English translation,
including some academic works and a sampling on the Korean War

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Shaman Sorceress by Kim Dong-ni

Translated into English in 2002, this early 20th century story of village life presents a conflict between modernism, exemplified by Christianity, and folk traditions of the mudang (sorceress or priestess) and the ancient shaman beliefs of the country that precede Buddhism. The young daughter of an impoverished village widow becomes pregnant by the neighbor boy, and with this shame is forced to leave the village where the two have barely eked out a living of lowly housekeeping work. In the new village, Eulwha is spiritually called by the eponymous goddess and learns the trade of exorcism from an older mudang; she also falls in love with one of the mudang’s helpers, and then has a daughter. Wolhie is a talented artist and paints pictures of the spirits, but loses the ability to speak clearly. When her son is ten, Eulwha seeks an education for him and delivers him to a monastery; the son eventually ends up in Pyongyang and becomes a Christian. He returns as an adult to find his mother and sister, to convert them, but Eulwha and he find each other at odds, believing each other’s god is a demon. He is convinced that with Jesus and his Christian God, he can cure Wolhie’s speech disability. The beautiful child becomes the foil between which the two powers grow increasingly conflicted, to tragic results. This book is by a famed Korean author, and was originally serialized in a newspaper. I cannot locate additional information about its original publication date.

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