« Her First Thought Every Morning | Main | Invented by Spies »

The World at a Glance

I just finished editing the English translation of Hak Choi’s memoir of his famous (in Korea) grandfather “Yuktang” Ch’oe Nam-sŏn, the writer of the Korean Declaration of Independence and a pioneering Korean historian, writer, and publisher in the first half of the twentieth century.

My favorite facts about Yuktang are that he named his library, which contained tens of thousands of books, Illamgak, which is Korean for “a place where the world can be seen at a glance,” and that he wrote a poem in honor of his book collection after it was destroyed by American bombing during the Korean War. Here are some excerpts of his sijo (Korean verse form), translated into English by Kim Choi:

Ten years ago I tried my best to hide it from harm,
Only to prepare its burial ground ten years later.
I can but chuckle at how all my toils turn to naught.

In lieu of wine and flowers, you were my constant companion.
With you I took refuge from my sorrows and shared my joys.
Together we had many good times, so let’s see how we fare apart.

.   .   .   .   .   .   .

Both the bailiffs and communists came to claim it.
It is funny how they thought to claim it as their own.
Now the true owner has shown itself, the napalm bomb.

Every piece of paper, every letter, I gathered with my soul.
Now they are all gone in flames, but their spirits remain.
One by one, they live on, untouched, in my memory.

A hundred ingredients I gathered to make one terrific soup.
Before I could drop them in the pot, they have turned into ash.
Alas! I have dreamt a long dream that lasted all my life.

I’m hoping that My Grandfather Yuktang Ch’oe Nam-son: Building a Foundation for Korean Modernity soon finds an American publisher, so that many readers can discover the revelations about East Asian history that I did while editing this wonderful book.


[A listing for the Korean Edition of the book can be seen here.]

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.