Political prisoner Hyun Woo is freed after eighteen years to find no trace of the world he knew. The friends with whom he shared utopianist dreams are gone. His Seoul is unrecognizably transformed and aggressively modernized. Yoon Hee, the woman he loved, died three years ago. A broken man, he drifts toward a small house in Kalmoe, where he and Yoon Hee once stole a few fleeting months of happiness while fleeing the authorities. In the company of her diaries, he relives and reviews his life, trying to find meaning in the revolutionary struggle that consumed their youth—a youth of great energy and optimism, victim to implacable history.
Hyun Woo weighs the worth of his own life, spent in prison, and that of the strong-willed artist Yoon Hee, whose involvement in rebel groups took her to Berlin and the fall of the wall. With great poignancy, Hwang Sok-yong grapples with the immortal questions—the endurance of love, the price of a commitment to causes—while depicting a generation that sacrificed youth, liberty, and often life, for the dream of a better tomorrow.
In his most autobiographical work, veteran Korean novelist and former political prisoner Sok-Yong writes about a recently freed prisoner reflecting on his life through the letters of an old lover. Following an 18-year sentence, Oh Hyun Woo discovers that his former lover, Han Yoon Hee, has died. Oh returns to Kalmae, where they lived together, and discovers Yoon Hee's journals and letters to him. From there, the narrative combines Oh's memories and Yoon Hee's, often flowing seamlessly between the two. Yoon Hee's letters to Oh are layered in rich details and life-changing revelations, suggesting she knows all along that these letters will one day be all that's left of their relationship. Sok-Yong's attention to detail is especially powerful in Oh's descriptions of prison life and returning to the outside world, like "waking up from a nap at the end of a summer day when the sun is setting." Oh and Yoon Hee's languid, heartbreaking tales of loss and waiting complement each other beautifully, evoking the spirit of Love in the Time of Solitude.