An Appointment with His Brother (1994) by Yi Mun-yol
senior division, 2019 essay competition
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About the Author
It is not an exaggeration to say that Yi Mun-yol (born in 1948) is the most successful Korean writer of the last quarter of the twentieth century. Yi is one of those lucky authors who consistently win both critical acclaim and enthusiastic popular following. Since his debut at age 30, he has been a commanding presence in the Korean literary scene, and in recent years he has also received acclaim and critical attention in Europe and elsewhere, as his works have been translated into major European and Asian languages. Yi, however, has not always been so lucky. In fact, he was intensely unhappy in his early years. Much as was the case with the protagonist of this story, his father’s defection to the North forced his family to struggle not only against poverty but social stigma and police surveillance. So he repeatedly dropped out of school and experienced great turbulence of spirit. Throughout it all, however, he read omni-vorously, which served him well in his later career, as did his early tribulations.
To date Yi has produced close to twenty novels (half of them multi-volume) and more than fifty novellas and short stories, besides two collections of political and social commentaries and two ten-volume translations of classical Chinese romances. Even more impressive than his productivity is the range and power of his stories. Some of them are serious explorations into man’s existential condition; many delve into the implications of the Oriental and Western heritages, drawing from numerous classical texts from the East and the West; some grapple with the meaning of history and ideology; and some are satirical portrayals of contemporary social mores. As Yi is only in his early fifties, he is certain to continue to enrich Korean literature and delight and enlighten his enthusiastic readers worldwide.
An Appointment with His Brother is a story of the author’s imagined meeting with his stepbrother, his father’s son from his second marriage in North Korea after his defection during the Korean War. The narrator/ protagonist of the story uses his connections and money to arrange his younger brother’s visit to Yanji, in the Korean autonomous district in China, to have a meeting with him there. The protagonist had originally intended to arrange a meeting with his father, but after learning that his father passed away while the Korean-Chinese who had been commis-sioned with the task was trying to make it happen, decided to meet his brother in place of his father.