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First edition of Yom Sang-seop's 'Sunflower' revealed.

Yom Sang-seop (1897-1963), who wrote "Frog in the Specimen Room" and "Three Generations," is a pioneer of modern literature in Korea, often dubbed a "writer of the period of dissatisfaction." However, Yom's life and much of his works are lesser known, except for his major novels.

An exhibition at the National Library of Korea sheds light on the writer as a result of the library's efforts to collect modern Korean literature. Some books are on public view for the first time in decades.

At the "Yom Sang-seop Literature Exhibition," commemorating the 120th anniversary of the writer's birth, an extensive collection of Yom's books and artifacts are on display, including a rare first edition of Yom's first novel, "Sunflower," which is on view for the first time.

Lee Jong-ho, a Sungkyunkwan University professor of Korean literature, said Yom was a middle-class conservative who was politically middle-of-the-road.

"Yom experienced a variety of governing systems _ he was born in Seoul, studied in Japan, returned to Korea and worked as a reporter," Lee said. "Then he moved to Manchuria where he celebrated the liberation of Korea from Japanese colonial rule. During the Korean War, he lived in Seoul but did not escape, so spent three months under North Korean control. These diverse experiences led him to criticize both modernism and socialism, suggesting an alternative style of modern life."

Yom took part in Korea's independence movement against Japanese colonial rule and was arrested for his activities.

For the March 1 Movement in 1919, Yom wrote a statement on behalf of the Korean laborers in Osaka, Japan. Though he was arrested for the statement, he clearly shows a desire for democracy in the Declaration of Independence.

Yom experimented on naturalistic and realistic literary styles for the first time in modern Korea.

Yom's first published novel was known as "Mansejeon" (Before Independence Hurrah) in 1924, but the National Library's collection revealed that "Sunflower" was published 10 days earlier. "Sunflower" is a novel about free love and the marriage of a "new woman," inspired by Na Hye-sok, a modernist painter and writer who married Kim Woo-young.

Yom worked as a newspaper reporter while pursuing his career as a writer. The exhibit gives insight into how he was able to do both jobs during those turbulent times.

His is mostly well known for "Three Generations," which was serialized in a newspaper in 1931. The epic novel revolved around three generations of a landlord family in Seoul and how a socialist and a bourgeoisie showed solidarity to change Joseon under Japanese colonial rule. Illustrations for the novel featured in the newspaper and photos of the times are displayed together to help with understanding.

Yom went to Manchuria as editor-in-chief of the Manseon Ilbo newspaper, on the condition of ceasing his literary work. After Korea's liberation, Yom moved back to Seoul and his experience of crossing North Korea inspired him to write "The 38th Parallel."

He continued to write and protected democratic values in his later days. "Sudden Rain" was written based on his experience as a military writer in the navy during the Korean War.

"Yom was not in the mainstream of Korean literature, but consistently pursued his own literary world, criticizing society," Lee said.

The exhibit runs through Feb. 25. Admission is free. For more information, visit or call 02-535-4142.
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Publication:The Korea Times News (Seoul, Korea)
Date:Dec 15, 2017
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