Ha Geun-chan’s “White Paper Beard,” published in 1959, is a story of a boy named Dong-gil, who lived in a rural village right after the end of the Korean War.
“What the heck?”
Something was not right with his father. Dong-gil’s eyes widened and he stood there with his mouth agape. The boy lifted up one of his father’s sleeves with a shaking hand. Nothing. There was nothing there.
“Mom! Dad has lost an arm! One of his arms is missing!”
Sighing, his mother went into the kitchen with a flour dough to make lunch.
동길이는 두 눈이 휘둥그레지고, 입이 딱 벌어졌다.
떨리는 손으로 한 쪽 소맷부리를 들추어 보았다.
없다. 분명히 없다.
“어무이, 아버지 팔 하나 없다. 팔 하나 없어, 팔!”
어머니는 한 숨을 쉬면서 함지박을 들고 부엌으로 들어갔다.
밀가루 수제비를 뜨는 것이었다.
Interview by literature critic Jeon So-yeong
This story deals with the war and ensuing pains, but the overall tone isn’t all miserable, because it shows these people’s resilience and vitality as they face up to the dismal reality. Dong-gil’s father used to be a carpenter. But after losing one of his arms, there must not have been that many jobs that he could do in the post-war society. He got a job as a theater advertiser, but he must have found it daunting to put on a funny makeup and draw customers to the theater. He ended up laughing and crying, conflicted in two different emotions of joy and despair that came from getting a new job and doing something so unfamiliar and silly.
“Oh, the man with dual pistols! Tonight’s moving picture is about a man with two pistols! Come and see the man, everyone!”
Dong-gil’s eyes met those of that weird guy. That was when his heart dropped. The boy felt like he was hit on the back of his head and his eyes watered suddenly. This was ridiculous. That weird guy was his father.
Dong-gil’s father appeared embarrassed when he spotted his son. He quickly turned away.
Dong-gil felt the tip of his nose sting again and his vision blurred from the tears.
“아아 쌍권총을 든 사나이,
아아, 오늘 밤의 활동사진은 쌍권총을 든 사나이,
많이 구경 오이소! 많이 많이 구경 오이소!”
메카폰을 든 그 희한한 사람의 시선이
동길이의 시선과 마주쳤다.
순간, 동길이의 가슴이 철렁 내려앉고 말았다.
뒤통수를 야물게 한 대 얻어맞은 것 같았다.
그리고 눈물이 핑 돌았다.
그 희한한 사람이 바로 아버지였던 것이다.
아버지는 동길이와 눈이 마주치자 약간 멋쩍은 듯했다.
그러고는 얼른 시선을 돌려 버리는 것이었다.
동길이는 코끝이 매워오며 뿌옇게 눈앞이 흐려져 갔다.
Ha Geun-chan (Born in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do Prov., Oct. 21, 1931~Nov. 25, 2007)
: Debuted by publishing short story “The Suffering of Two Generations” on Hankook Ilbo in 1957
Received Grade 3 Order of Cultural Merit in 1998, etc.