This historical novel, Encounter (Mannam), by Hahn Moo-Sook, one of Asia's most honored writers, is a story of the resilience in the Korean spirit. It is told through the experiences of Tasan, a high-ranking official and foremost Neo-Confucian scholar at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Because of Tasan's fascination with Western learning, then synonymous with Catholicism, he is exiled to a remote province for 18 years.
In banishment he meets people from various social and religious backgroundsBuddhist monks, peasants, shamanswhom he would not otherwise have met. The events of Tasan's life are effectively used to depict the confluence of Buddhist, Neo-Confucian, Taoist, and shamanistic beliefs in traditional Korea.
A subplot involves three young sisters, the daughters of a prominent Catholic aristocrat, and affords the reader vivid glimpses into Yi-dynasty women's lives, particularly those of palace ladies, scholars' wives, tavern keepers, shamans, and slaves.
In contrast to the long-held Confucian stereotype of female subservience, this story illustrates the richness of women's contribution to Korean culture and tradition.
Encounter's detailed narrative provides a broad and informed view of nineteenth-century Korea, making it a highly useful book for courses on Korean literature and society. It will also be an engaging read for lovers of historical fiction.
Winner of the 1986 Grand Prix of the Republic of Korea Literature Award, this novel of 19th-century Korea traces the lives of the scholar Chong Yak-yong and his martyred nephew Chong Ha-sang. Hahn intertwines philosophical and doctrinal discussions of Buddhism, Catholicism, and Taoism while outlining the origins of the strong tie in Korea between intellectualism and Western religion. But, even in the complicated first chapters, the tableau of life in Korea and the punishment and exigencies suffered by Korean Catholics are compelling. Hahn's descriptions are at their best while portraying the annual Korean tribute mission to China and the staging of shamanistic rites, despite occasional infelicitous wording. Both the main plot and the various subplots--especially that of Kwon Ho-sin and his family, all of whom meet their deaths as a result of their unswerving Catholic faith--form a rich narrative of Catholicism's tenacity in 1800s Korea and the efforts to destroy it. Recommended for literary collections.-- D.E. Perushek, Univ. of Tennessee Libs., Knoxville