This autobiographical novel narrated by the author’s eponymous character candidly shares the story of his birth, childhood as a sensitive boy, school years marked by infatuations with a male friend and teacher, military service as superiors’ favorite, agony as a newlywed realizing that he is unfit for marriage, roving through China as a North Korean defector, and tumultuous experience as a sexual minority settled in South Korea—episodes too multifarious and eclectic to have happened to one person.
Perhaps the only novel by a North Korean defector that does not expatiate on the political systems and ideology―an intimate and harrowing story that freely navigates through sorrow, laughter, wit, and twists.
Marked by a purely literary perspective and sensitivity, A Mark of Red Honor distinctly draws a line from most books by North Korean defectors that take non-fiction approaches to the political systems and ideology.
The North Korean society as portrayed by this natural storyteller feels almost familiar—somewhat similar to South Korean society in the 1970s. The nitty-gritty details of the utterly ordinary life in which exasperating antagonism and jealousy underly neighborly warmth and passion and envy intersect with the sweetest and dearest form of friendship are largely reminiscent of the South Korean community of common people at the time.
The strong and weak, the shrewd and naïve all make up a community. Grasping the author’s message that “Humanity blooms in any tough society ridden with tears and animosity for people to eventually smile and embrace each other,” readers will find their eyes tearing up and hearts stuffed full.
About the Author
Jang Young-jin was born in 1959 in Gyeongseong, Hamgyeongbuk-do, North Korea, and was raised in Cheongjin. After graduating people’s school and middle school, he was called to serve his military duty midway through his study at the Kim Hyong Jik University of Education. After discharge, he worked as a common laborer until March 20, 1996, when he crossed the Dumangang River and defected to China. When his attempts to cross over to South Korea failed after a year and a month, he returned to North Korea, advanced south on foot, and finally succeeded in crossing the east end of the Military Demarcation Line at the dawn of April 27, 1997. Since his settlement in South Korea, Jang has rekindled his passion for literature and devoted himself to writing novels.
About the Translator
John H. Cha is a writer and translator. He has written biographies of historically significant Korean and Korean American figures, including Willow Tree Shade: the Susan Ahn Cuddy Story, Exit Emperor Kim Jong-il: Notes from His Former Mentor, among them. He has won a number of awards—Korea Literature Award, PEN-Korea Translation Award, Korea Times Translation Award, Korean American Literature Award. He is a member of PEN-America.
Source: publisher’s website