The Korea Herald


Betrayal, war and destiny

By 이다영

Published : June 24, 2011 - 18:07

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The Cry of the Magpies

By Kim Dong-ni

(Jimoondang, 5,000 won)

“The Cry of Magpies” is one of the most well-known short stories written by Korea’s late author Kim Dong-ni. A dark and painful account of war and betrayal, the novella engages elements of Korean shamanism to reflect his view on human destiny that controls one’s life and innermost desires.

The novel tells a story of Bong-su, who just returned home from war. He shot his own fingers to get out of the war camp, as he thought it was the only way for him to survive and marry his fiance, Jeong-soon. Yet he soon finds out she is already married to his friend Sang-ho, who lied to her that Bong-su had been killed.

Meanwhile, Bong-su’s weary mother, who coughs hard whenever the local magpies cry, begs him to end her life, saying she no longer wants to live. Bong-su desperately tries to regain Jeong-soon, persuading her to leave her husband to be with him. When Jeong-soon sends him a letter through Young-sook, her sister, saying she cannot ruin her own marriage, Bong-su almost loses his mind and the novel reaches a shocking ending.

In Korea, the magpie has long been regarded as a lucky bird which delivers good news. In this novel, however, Kim uses as their cry as a shamanic and spiritual symbol of death and Bong-su’s destiny. He survived the war by shooting his own fingers; yet almost every reason why he had to get out of the war ― his mother, his fiance and the future he’d planned with them ― is destroyed by something he has no control over.

Born in 1913 in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, author Kim Dong-ni started his writing career by publishing poems in various newspapers at the age of 16. He later began to write short stories that were well-received by critics. His works often dealt with theme of innate destiny and human beings’ inability to fight against it. He died in 1995.