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“A Short Biography of Kim Taek-gwang” by Jang Hae-song

#Books on Demand l 2022-06-28

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After graduating from college, Kim Taek-gwang was sent to Sepo세포office under the Wonsan Chapter of the Hamheung함흥 Railroad Management Bureau, as a member of the Three Revolutions Team or TRT. 

The newspaper article said that Kim Taek-gwang took care of everything in order to ease the worries of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il who could never rest easy over the country’s rail transport. 

Kim Taek-gwang led the effort to form a unit of rail workers for railroad tie production. 

One day, while they were working tirelessly to produce railroad ties, they discovered that their sleeping quarters were on fire. 

By the time they arrived at the dorm, the roof had almost caved in. Kim Taek-gwang thought for a moment and then ran into the fire.



박상순이 김택광을 처음 알게 된 건 

철도 대학 1학년 체육대회였습니다.

당시 과 대항 장기시합이 있었는데, 

박상순은 장기를 막 배우는 단계지만

김택광은 청천강 이북에는 상대할 사람이 없다고 해서

별명도 ‘청천강 이북’이었습니다.

It was back in the freshman year of Railroad College when the two men had first met. They were taking part in an inter-departmental Chinese chess competition. Park was a novice chess player, while Kim was so good that he was practically invincible.


그런데 어이없게 청천강 이북, 김택광의 패배로 끝이 났습니다.

모든 것이 김택광의 허풍이었던 거죠.

But to everyone’s surprise, Kim Taek-gwang lost the match. It had been nothing but Kim’s empty boast.



# Interview 2 (Jeon)

While living, Kim Taek-gwang had consistently behaved in a way that seemed to run contrary to what the Party wanted, but he was turned into a hero after his death by the Party. That was because he was a member of the TRT, a small group of scientists, technicians, and intellectuals whom the regime sent out to farms or factories to help and teach farmers and laborers in the 1970s. They were sent out to watch people for the government, which was why the officials were forced to beautify Kim Taek-gwang’s death, to hide the truth to protect their authority. The story’s title is “A Short Biography of Kim Taekgwang,” which entails telling the truth about a person’s life. But this biography is a fake one, showing how a troublemaker is turned into a hero after death. It also shows the dark side of the North Korean society where Kim Taek-gwang used to live in.



그날 이들은 산에 올라 침목으로 쓸 목재를 찾아 한창 벌목을 하고 있는데

누군가 숙소에서 불이 난 것 같다고 소리쳤다.

They were cutting down trees to be used for railroad ties. That was when someone shouted that the dorm was on fire. 


하지만 이들이 도착했을 때는 이미 너무 늦었다.

By the time they arrived at the scene, it was way too late. 


그나마 사람이 다치지 않아 다행이라고 생각하는데

창고로 쓰던 뒷골방 자리에서 시신 한 구가 발견되었다.

모두가 깜짝 놀라 보니 뜻밖에도 김택광이었다는 것이다.

Nobody seemed to have died from the fire but then they discovered a body in a tiny room used for storage. The body was Kim Taek-gwang. 


“아니, 그럼 김택광이는 거기 산에 올라가지 않았다는 말입니까?”

“You mean Kim Taek-gwang never went up to the mountain?” (Sang-sun)


“3대 혁명 소조원이 왜 산에 올라가겠습니까?

산에 올라가 봐야 춥고 힘들고 노동자들과 함께 일을 해야 할 텐데,

그리고 바른대로 말해서 그는 전날 술을 억병으로 마시고

뒷창고에 숨어 자고 있었단 말입니다”

“A TRT member wouldn’t go up to the mountain. It would be cold in the woods and the work would be hard. He also wouldn’t deign to work with the laborers. The truth was that he had too much to drink the night before and was sleeping it off in the storage room.”


기막힌 일이었다.

상순의 입이 써서 말이 나가지 않았다.

It was preposterous. Sang-sun tasted something bitter in his mouth.  


김일성, 김정일이 자기 자신들의 위대성, 영도의 현명성을 선전하기 위해서는

세상 불망종의 사기꾼도 영웅으로 둔갑시킨다.

Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il would turn a reprehensible conman into a hero if that could publicize the greatness and wisdom of their leadership. 


그러니 이 나라는 도대체 어디로 가자고 그러는가.

상순이 생각하면 할수록 기가 막혀 말이 나오지 않았다.

Where was this country heading? The more he thought about it, the more hopeless he became. 




Jang Hae-song (born in Jilin Province, China in 1945)

Debuted with "The Korean Novelists Association's Featured Novels (Where Is Life?)"

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