Hwang Sun-won, perhaps the most beloved and respected Korean writer of the 20th century, based this extraordinary novel on his own experiences in his North Korean home village between the end of World War II and the eve of the Korean War when Korea had been divided into North and South by its two “liberators” – the United States and the Soviet Union. In this story the Soviet-backed communist party, using the promise of land reform, sets people at each other’s throat. Portrayed here is an entire community caught in the political and social firestorm that brings out the selfishness, cruelty and ignorance of simple people, but also shows their loyalty and nobility. Compelling here, too, is a heroine who represents the “eternally feminine” for all Korean men, and the setting, the harsh political, psychic and physical landscape of rural postwar North Korea rarely glimpsed by the outside world. Hwang Sun-won is an artist of consummate delicacy and subtlety, and his writing is marked by keen psychological insight and steely asceticism. While three collections of his short stories have appeared in Hong Kong and the West, “The Descendants of Cain” is the first English translation of a Hwang Sun-won novel.