28 Years Besides the Moon-tan Road
Kim Sung-jong, the mystery novelist and director of the World's Mystery Library
IN HIS office on the fourth floor of the World's Mystery Library, Kim Sung-jong ('63, Dept. of Political Science & Int'l studies) sat down for an interview with The Yonsei Annals, holding his favorite cigar and staring down at the South Sea. He is a renowned novelist, especially in the field of mysteries. In 1992, he established the World's Mystery Library on the hill looking over Haeundae, the most beautiful beach in Korea. Also, from 2006 to 2008, he was the president of the Korean Mystery Writers' Association.
Annals: Tell us about your campus life.
I took many liberal arts courses, where I made friends with some of those who are now poets or writers. However, as a poor student from the countryside, Gurye, Jeolla-do, I could not fully enjoy campus life. It was important for me to earn my living. I even worked as a tram cleaner. Four years of college life was a matter of survival to me.
Why did you choose Political Science & Int'l Studies as your major?
I thought studying political science would allow me to develop an analytical perspective. For example, a fluttering Taegukki － the national flag of Korea － symbolizes more than just the country itself. In some ways, it is used as a means of governing the nation and its people. Likewise, there is more than what meets the eye. One should be able to penetrate deep beneath the surface for hidden meanings. That is what only the study of politics could give, and what I was seeking to achieve in academics.
Why did you choose to become a writer? Was there any particular life event that motivated you to write novels?
Becoming a writer was a long-cherished dream, rather than a choice resulting from a specific event. It was my calling to become a writer. I do have work experience in several companies, but this only added to my skepticism about working for a company. Looking over the sunset each day, I thought, "Is it worth spending a whole day for a small bunch of money?" So when my books started to earn me a living, I turned full-time writer. As a writer, I do not have to belong anywhere or follow orders. Also, a writer can express his mighty thoughts and ideas, anywhere and anytime, with only a piece of paper and a pen.
What made you start the World's Mystery Library?
When I came to Busan in 1980, the Moonbeam Hill of Haeundae was a wild plain with nothing on it. The city authorities were trying to sell off the land, without any specific plans to develop the area. I bought the land and thought of what to build on it. If I had built a cafe or a restaurant, it would have made me a lot of money, but it was something anyone could do. I thought about what I truly wanted to do, and came up with the idea of building a library with mystery books. Although we have many public libraries in Korea, we do not have libraries specializing in specific genres of books. It was also something that only I could do. It was the first literary exhibition hall to be established in Korea.
What do you think about the mystery novel readership and market in Korea?
When I made my debut with my award-winning novel A Policeman, mystery novels were not popular in Korea. After 30 years' time, I can now realize the growth of their readership since then. However, it is still sad that Korean readers are devoted to foreign novelists. Murakami Haruki's recently published mystery novel was flattered by every Korean media. However, I found it lousy. The pre-ordering of foreign novels itself is a huge waste of foreign reserves.
Any mysteries that you want to recommend to Yonseians?
There are three books that led me into the world of mystery novels. The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth is one of them. Among spy mysteries, I would recommend The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre, and Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett. All of these books inspired me to become a mystery novelist. When I was a student, I was also devoted to existentialist writers like Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre.
Tell us about your most famous novel Eyes of Dawn, which was also made into a popular TV series in the '80s.
Contrary to what people think, Eyes of Dawn is not a mystery novel, but a pure literary work. To be frank, I was quite doubtful about whether the novel could be adapted into a TV drama because the novel takes place at diverse places. However, I was content with the final work. The popularity of the series raised sales of the original book and enabled me to earn a living with the royalties from book sales. The drama brought up the unresolved issue of "comfort women," and triggered the start of the Wednesday demonstration*.
Any last words for Yonseians and those who aspire to become a writer?
I travel a lot, especially to Europe. When I visit Cambridge or Oxford University, I really wish I could devote myself to studying once again. While you are still young, immerse yourself in your area of interest to the point that you forget what is going on around you. Time flies if you idle your days away. If you want to be a writer, be obsessed with literature, classics, and every kind of writing. Make writing your destiny. That's how you become a writer.
|Eyes of Dawn
Broadcasted from October 1991 to February 1992, Eyes of Dawn was the very first Korean blockbuster TV series. Based on a ten-volume novel, it dramatizes what the Korean people suffered during the two most tragic events of Korean history: the Japanese colonial occupation and the Korean War. The pre-production and on-site filming was unprecedented for that time. By the time the first chapter was aired, it had ratings higher than 50% and the last episode rated 58% audience share. The series won a total of seven prizes in the BaekSang Arts Awards. Even now, it is remembered as the TV series that people want to watch again the most.
*Wednesday demonstration: A protest calling for full investigation and compensation for so-called "comfort women," drafted by the Japanese army during World War II. Starting from 1992, it is held every Wednesday in front of the Japanese embassy.