Yi Chong-jun’s (이청준) novel on the subject is called Your Paradise. Looking at the beach above you see maybe one reason.
But Sorok Island (소록도) is Korea’s best known leper colony. As Brother Anthony explains, in Yi’s book,
the subject is the relation between the individual and the collective. The setting is the remote leper colony on Sorok Island, where a clinic has been set up for the lepers. Cho Paekkŏn is the well-meaning head of the clinic who seeks to make his dream — ‘this paradise of yours,’ for the victims of leprosy — into a reality. The patients, however, remain skeptical of any notion of a paradise built as ‘yours’ rather than ‘ours,’ and do not give Dr. Cho their support. What the patients, including Elder Hwang, had dreamed of was ‘our paradise,’ built with their own strength upon the foundation of shared love and a desire for freedom, the shaping of their autonomous destiny from within rather than from without or above.
The patients had had rather too much experience of having their destiny shaped from above – in the form of the previous director of the colony, the Japanese Dr Sato, who had the lepers erect a statue of himself.
Until recently, the island could only be visited by ferry. But from Chuseok this year it will be connected to the mainland by a new bridge. Follow the links below for some coverage of the mixed feelings this has generated.
- Sorok Island: The last leper colony, Independent, 20 August 2007
- A Korean Bridge Must Span Years of Bias and Sadness, Norimitsu Onishi and Lee Su-hyun in the NYTimes, 9 August 2007 (also syndicated in the IHT and elsewhere)
- Tears, sorrow of Korean lepers embedded in tiny island, Kim Hyung-jin at Yonhap, 22 February 2007
- Sorokdo: Hope and History at Land’s End, James Card at OhMyNews, 3 March 2005
- Sorokdo website
- Wikipedia on Leprosy
- Pope John Paul II’s address to the patients on Sorokdo, 4 May 1984