The repatriation boat: The personal and the political in the work of Lee Hoe Sung

Abstract

The Repatriation Boat: the personal and the political in the early work of Lee Hoe-sung

In 1971, Lee Hoe-sung (1935-) became the first ethnically non-Japanese author to win the coveted Akutagawa Prize. His win marked a shift in the Japanese literary canon, seeing the creation of a space allowing the exploration of postcolonial identity in post-war Japan. Ōe Kenzaburō, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, once described him as "a writer who expresses the experiences and thoughts of the Koreans in the Japanese language".

Lee was born on the island of Sakhalin in 1935. His early life is notable for its constant movement - Sakhalin was returned to the USSR in 1945, forcing Lee and his family to be moved to Hakodate, and later, Sapporo. Entering university, Lee became a part of the Korean student activist movement that advocated the return to North Korea for all Koreans living in Japan after the Pacific War. His work draws heavily on these personal experiences, telling the Korean story as a counter to the Japanese grand narrative.

In this seminar, I will explore several early works by Lee, examining the ways in which he constructs a subaltern identity through his work- a postcolonial, minority identity in the face of the Japanese norm. I will focus particularly on the ways in which Lee hijacks traditional Japanese literary forms to create a hybrid literature that occupies a unique space in the Japanese canon.

Works discussed in detail will include: "Towards our youth" (われら青春の途上にて: 1969); "Things left behind by the dead" (死者に遺したもの: 1970); and "For Kayako" (伽倻子のために: 1970).

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