Read Son of Man by Yi Mun-Yol Online


One of the greatest living Korean writers here details the quest of a young seminary student seeking transcendence, running through many Western and East Asian theologies in the process. Deciding that Jesus was not truly "the son of man," the student sets out to create his own alternative to Christ, and winds up dead. Soon, the detective called in to solve the killing windOne of the greatest living Korean writers here details the quest of a young seminary student seeking transcendence, running through many Western and East Asian theologies in the process. Deciding that Jesus was not truly "the son of man," the student sets out to create his own alternative to Christ, and winds up dead. Soon, the detective called in to solve the killing winds up with more than a simple murder on his hands, as this metaphysical mystery advances to its unforgettable climax....

Title : Son of Man
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781628971194
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 208 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Son of Man Reviews

  • Paul Fulcher
    2019-01-26 08:54

    "He was tired of our god who never smiled or grew angry, who was never happy or sad, who never rebuked or praised; he came to think that actions disengaged from any notion of good or evil - evil without punishment, and good without reward- were all equally hollow."Book 20 in the praiseworthy Dalkey Library of Korean Literature, and my favourite so far. An intellectually fascinating theological novel.사람의 아들 by 이문열 (Yi Mun-yol) was the great Korean author's first full-length novel, published in 1979 when he was 31 years old. It has been translated into English as Son of Man by Brother Anthony, who I have had the pleasure of meeting in person, and who has played such a vital role in the understanding of Korean culture and literature in the English speaking world. His translation includes some editorial decisions that would normally raise alarms with me - the deletion of 355 footnotes included in the original as "such an apparatus is not a usual feature of works of fiction published in English". I suspect it isn't a usual feature in Korean novels either, and surely English readers would need the information in the footnotes just as much as Korean readers (albeit Brother Anthony incorporates some into the main text), indeed if anything translations tend to engender extra footnotes. In a similar vein 9 pages of the original have been omitted entirely as the section "interrupts the flow of the narrative and gives an over-detailed account of a religion that is not destined to play any significant role in the novel." But crucially, both decisions were made with the author's agreement and I'm sure, knowing Brother Anthony's reputation and nature, with integrity and great respect. The novel is ostensibly a detective novel and starts as such, the opening lines so reminiscent of the hard-boiled genre. One can picture the movie with Bogart playing Detective Sergeant (경사) Nam Gyeongho (남 경호): "Rain falling onto thick layers of accumulated dust had left the windows of the criminal investigations office so mottled that thet were virtually opaque. Beyond them, the dim outlines of roofs cold be seen, huddled grimly beneath a lowering city sky...Sergeant Nam fell into the state of melancholy that had recently become habitual for him... As he recalled the two little rented room he would return to after work, unless something unexpected occurred, Sergeant Nam glumly reviewed his career, over which the sense of impending failure loomed."And Yi Mun-Yol respects the rules of the genre (perhaps overly so in my view, as one who is no fan of genre) providing us with a whodunit murder, a lengthy investigation criss-crossing Korea, and a neat resolution (although why they did it is the main point not who - fortunately, given that Brother Anthony rather gives away the murderer's identity in his introduction). But in practice this detective novel is primarily a framing device for the main thrust of the book, an in-depth meditation on the nature of the divine and on Judeo-Christianity. The murder victim is one Min Yoseop (민 요섭), a 32 year old former theological student. This is no ordinary case, as Nam soon realises, resignedly: "nine times out of ten incidents that were not connected with money or women turned into cases where he made no progress but only developed a headache.". A search of the victims room reveals his sole possession to be a bible inscribed with the Latin "Desperatus, credere potus. Mortuus, vivere potus." (Now that you have despaired, you can believe. Now that you have died, you can live.). And the only professor to remember him from his student explains why the initially brilliant student eventually quit the seminary: "He was more interested in the pursuit of knowledge than faith...Even if he was intellectually brilliant, we could not allow him to shake the foundations of belief." The detective, and the reader, is rapidly led into deep theological waters. The professor immediately explains that Yoseop was interested in the teachings of the Japanese theologian Kagawa Toyohiko and in the beliefs of the Ophites, a gnostic sect that regarded the serpent from the Garden of Eden as a emissary of Wisdom not of an evil Satan. The rather clunky insertion of detailed biographical information for Kagawa the main story, exposition interrupting the narrative, is I suspect a feature of the translator's decision to omit the footnotes and instead incorporate necessary explanations in the body of the text. Sergeant Nam soon comes into possession of a novel written by Min, and large sections of this are incorporated verbatim into the text forming a second novel within the main book. The novel-in-a-novel starts arrestingly with a different take on the Nativity, stating that the Three Wise Men "must have been an embarrassment to Yahweh..when they arrived so noisily...with indiscretion".Min's novel is based on the (rather dubious) European legend of the "Wandering Jew", condemned to wander the earth till Jesus returns as punishment for having harangued him on the road to calvary. Min turns him into a real historical figure, Ahasueres, born at the same time as Jesus, and explains what led to the point where he confronted Jesus (not, in his telling, their first meeting). At precisely the same time that the boy Jesus is debating with the teachers in Jerusalem, Asahueres first comes across the "doubts that are bound to confront you as soon as you free yourself from the superficial exegeses of the scriptures and all the prejudices and fallacies that are so prevalent". A deliberately false prophet explains to him that the Word is not enough in a world of suffering and teaches him what the Messiah must bring: "Be sure to remember: bread, a miracle, and power. The mere incarnation of the Word, just like the Word itself, can give us nothing". A partner in adultery argues that sin is a man-made concept "isn't it because people have told you that things are sins that now you regard them as sins?." And he himself wrestles with how sin can exist in a pre-destined world (reflecting the Gnostic beliefs of the Ophites and the Sect of Cain). Asahueres in his twenties leaves Israel and spends a decade travelling the Roman empire, seeking different religions, on "a quest for a new god and a new truth that might be able to console him for the despair he felt about the old god of his people." But his main discovery is that Yahweh, the "god of his people", has actually absorbed the best aspects of all the foreign gods. He traces how, in his view, the shephardic God of Abraham became the warrior God of Moses under the influence of the Egyptians, an agricultural God with permanent temples and burnt offerings under Elijiah and Hosea (as the Canaanite Baal), under Amos and Isaiah "he was transformed from a tribal god to the "absolute, unique god of the cosmos", and finally how the creation myth came from the Babylonians and the eschatology (Satan and the hierarchy of angels) from the Persian Zoroaster. And he concludes both that "it was not Yahweh who made us but we who made Yahweh" but equally that the many foreign religions he experiences contain just "a faint image of my old, irrational god" rather than any new truth. At times this part of the novel can get a little heavy going, with sentences like "although no precise texts have survived, Ahasueres is said to have spoken of belief in avatars and the future Buddha Maitreya, both of which can be understood in terms of metempsychosis, cyclical eschatology, and other transformations of the notion of rebirth.". One wonders if this would have been better or worse with the original multiple footnotes instead of exposition in the text. Yi Munyol rather acknowledges the reader's difficulties via Sergeant Nam, who is of course reading the same sub-novel, found in the victim's belongings. At one point he laments that it "seemed to be playing intellectual games in antiquated spaces of history" and another finds him "slightly discouraged to find Ahasueres still wandering incomprehensibly in foreign lands. Considering the energy he expanded reading and analysing the novel, he was getting too little out of it." Fortunately this reader, at least, did not feel the same way. Asahueres then moves back to Israel and confronts Jesus in the desert, both having fasted for 40 days and nights and each having achieved their own revelation. The words of his first teacher comes back to Asahueres - "Be sure to remember: bread, a miracle, and power." - and it is he not Satan, who applies the three temptations, arguing that only a Messiah who brings these things is any use to humanity. Similarly other familiar challenges to Jesus during his ministry are attributed to Asahueres who ultimately even coordinates his betrayal and execution. And, in Min's account, Asahueres is not condemned to wander the earth but rather chooses to do so, so as to re-confront Jesus should he ever return: Jesus's lament becomes "what will you do about that man who will walk the earth for thousands of years, whispering to people? How can you be sure that when I next come down into this world there will not be another cross waiting for me, that I shall not once more return home in tears? I ask you again, unless it is something I must accept, take this cup from me." Asahueres's own revelation in the desert was of the real god he sought, and Min Yoseop takes up the theme. Based loosely on the Ophite teachings, Min postulates that what the bible calls Satan is actually a second dual divinity alongside Yahweh - Freedom to his Justice, and Wisdom to his Goodness. Far from it being this divinity / Satan who rebelled, in Min's account Yahweh went his own way, and the lack of balance from the god of Wisdom accounts for much of the woes of the world. This god, just before the coming of Jesus, pleads with Yahweh to either re-unite with him and leave the world alone without any need for divine intervention, or as a second-best option to at least remove all traces of freedom and wisdom and return people to the Garden of Eden days, taking away free-will. But of course salvation via faith is key to the Christian religion that Jesus establishes.Asahueres in the inner-novel and Min Yoseop in the detective story both become the prophets of this second god, but as the opening quote to my review suggests Min eventually becomes disillusioned with this disengaged divinity, and this leads to his murder.Fascinating - as the length of my review shows.

  • Caroline
    2019-01-29 08:50

    Interesting novel dealing with comparative religion and the problem of evil. There is a novel by one of the characters embedded in a mystery, but I didn’t find either one really compelling. Still, worth reading because I haven’t read much contemporary fiction from Korea.Note to translator and publisher: first, thanks for undertaking this. But I think the translator made a real error in excising the eight or so pages of description of the religion in the Zoroastrian section. It unbalanced Ahasuerus’s quest and left a big hole in the comparative project.

  • Tony
    2019-02-16 11:52

    Son of Man (translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé) begins at a Daegu police station, where Sergeant Nam Gyeongho, a long-serving but fairly low-ranking detective, is listening in on the interrogation of a man accused of kicking a woman in the street. He’s quickly out on more urgent business, though, when news comes through of the discovery of a dead body in a nearby region, and while the identity of the deceased, Min Yoseop, isn’t hard to come by, other details are rather scarce. As a result, Nam sets off on a journey to follow up any trace of Min’s existence, hoping to find out how the man spent the last few years of his lifeHard evidence proves hard to come by, and at first the only real progress Nam makes is the discovery of a manuscript Min was working on. Despite his rather limited literary capabilities, the detective decides that the text may just contain clues as to why Min returned to Daegu, and shed light on what he’s been doing for the past few years. Instead, Nam is confronted with an allegorical novel set two thousand years ago, a story reimagining the life of a rather controversial figure, and he must decide whether the text really does have a bearing on the investigation.Son of Man is frequently described as a detective novel with a difference, and the difference is that it’s not really a detective novel at all; to be honest, there are times when you suspect the frame could have been dispensed with completely. The true core of the novel is the fascinating story of Ahasuerus, the semi-mythical ‘Wandering Jew’ of Biblical fame, one that actually occupies the bulk of Yi’s work. We meet him as an intelligent youth, the product of a devout home and destined to follow in his father’s footsteps as a religious leader – until, that is, he encounters a man on the streets one day. The self-proclaimed false messiah Thedos spends a day taking him through Jerusalem, showing him what life is really about:“Were not people suffering and dying at the very moment when the priests and teachers were proclaiming at the top of their voices the Word in all its beauty and hope? The Word was unable to fill the bellies of the hungry or clothe the naked. It was unable to protect people from crime and from disease; it was powerless against misery and misfortune. At this very moment, many thousand times the number of people you have seen today are dying pointlessly in pain, believing in the superstition of the Word.”p.44 (Dalkey Archive Press, 2015)Having had his eyes opened to the true ways of the world, Ahasuerus decides that his people’s view of God is a lie, and this realisation compels him to leave his homeland in the hope of finding the true face of God elsewhere.We do return to Korea from time to time, and as Nam slowly begins to piece together Min’s movements throughout the missing years, the parallels between his nomadic lifestyle and Ahasuerus’ epic journey become ever clearer. In fact, over the course of the investigation, the author creates a layer of journeys, with Nam trudging wearily from Daegu to Seoul, from Busan to Daejon, just as Min did before him. Every stop he makes provides more information, and the picture that gradually emerges is of a religious man who, despite his disillusionment with orthodox beliefs, continued to believe in a gospel of trust and forgiveness, gathering followers around him at every stage of his journey. Which sounds a lot like another historical figure…With Nam disappearing (into his reading) for large stretches of the novel, you could be forgiven for thinking that there’s very little Korean about Son of Man (and it’s certainly the least Korean Korean book I’ve read). Yi uses the internal narrative of the novel to reflect on the nature of Christianity and its God, one who certainly can seem cruel and jealous at times, and the conclusions he comes to, particularly when Ahasuerus finally comes face to face with another famous son of man, are fascinating (although I suspect not all Christians will be as accepting of his speculations…). There’s plenty here, in terms of both content and style, that reminds me of another of this year’s reads, Amos Oz’s Judas, with the Israeli writer’s explanations of the dark disciple’s actions resembling the Korean author’s attempts to justify those of Ahasuerus.Yet if you read between the lines, there’s a little more of a Korean flavour to Son of Man than you might think. Quite apart from the process of Nam’s investigation, there are several glimpses throughout the novel of a country where life doesn’t run quite as smoothly as many would have you believe. The comical arrest that starts the novel has a social cause, with the young man taking offence at the young woman’s attire:“One pair of boots like that… could keep several pairs… of frozen feet warm. Just beside the road where that woman was passing… a kid was begging, wearing nothing but rubber slippers on her bare feet, lying on the ground shivering…”. (p.44)The detective’s visit to the capital reveals that religious leaders aren’t exempt from the sins of gluttony and avarice, with Min’s troubles there caused by clashes with an unscrupulous pastor. Later, when Nam makes it to Busan, he finds out that Min worked at the docks for a while, but was eventually forced to move on after causing trouble among the workers – and by trouble, I mean standing up for the exploited and trying to defend their rights. Just as was the case in ancient Jerusalem, life may have been wonderful for some people in the Korea of the 1970s, but not everyone benefited from the economic boom.There’s a lot to like here, and Brother Anthony has done a wonderful job with the text (I suspect that having worked on it for a number of years, he left very little for the Dalkey editors to do). The parallels between Min and Ahasuerus are also cleverly done, with the reader gradually seeing a strong connection between the two men. Having said that, there are elements of the novel that might put the average reader off. The story of Ahasuerus, a lengthy narrative focused primarily on a search for information on ancient deities, might be a little too esoteric for some, and while there are similarities with Judas, the major difference between the two works is in the way the writers handle the delicate balance between the present and fictional sections of the novel. Unfortunately, Yi’s attention is very much on his wandering Jew, meaning that Nam is a fairly two-dimensional creation, one who pops in and out of the story when required. As for the crime aspect of the novel, few readers will struggle to work out very quickly where the story is going, even if we’ll have to take a few long-distance bus journeys to get there…There are glimpses of Korean issues peeking through the surface of Son of Man, but it’s a book that will be enjoyed most by readers prepared to consider Yi’s theological musings. I doubt that his revelation will be enough to shake anyone’s faith, but in his decision to allow Ahasuerus to defend his actions, the author has produced a fascinating perspective on the origins of Christianity, and that’s certainly enough to warrant giving the work a try.

  • John Armstrong
    2019-01-25 13:48

    I spent a few years of my life long ago reading Christian Gnostic texts, particularly the ones in the Coptic Nag Hammadi library. I discovered in the process that one of the things they would do to make their teachings more accessible was to convert tracts into dialogs (often called “gospels”) by reifying the roles of teacher and student (or more often groups of students) and casting the doctrines in the form of questions (by the students) and answers (by the teacher). In the end I decided, you can dress a tract up as a dialog but in the end it is still a tract.That’s how I feel about Yi Mun-Yol’s The Son of Man. It is a tract dressed up as a dialog – and, amazingly enough, not at just one level but at two. The outmost layer is a detective story, in which a persevering policeman attempts to solve a murder. This layer accounts for about of quarter of the book in total page count. The other three quarters is the text, presented in installments, of a manuscript “novel” which the murder victim conveniently left behind for the detective to discover and read, ultimately from end to end, in search of clues about the murder. This “novel” consists of a succession of discussions between a protagonist named Ahasuerus (the traditional name of the Wandering Jew, though I’m not sure this the reference the author is intending to make) and figures representing various religious, not least of which is Jesus Christ, representing Christianity. The discussions are about doctrines, particularly good and evil, and collectively represent the protagonist’s responses to and critiques of, the doctrines espoused by the other speakers. Thus, for me at least, the “novel” is a tract in disguise. I will say at this point that I found what I’m calling the tract completely uninteresting. In fact, I gradually shifted from reading the installments carefully to skimming them to, finally, flipping through them to find where the detective story resumed. It made me think of a line in a movie I saw long ago, something like what was about to happen was going to be “bad Fellini”. Only this time around it was bad Nietzsche.I obviously didn’t like what this part of the book (which was most of it) seemed to me to be, that is, a religious or rather theological tract, but I tried to explore other ways of looking at it that might be more rewarding to me. Some questions I considered were, is it somehow about the well-known break between Yi Mun-yol and his father? Is it an allegory about the ideological break between North and South Korea that came with the division of the country, and at the center of which was the new doctrine of Communism? Or, if it is really about good and evil, what specific, real-life, good and evil is it about? I didn’t come up with any answers, but then, I haven’t entirely given up yet. Maybe after I read more work by Yi things will become clearer.Some people will like, even love, this book. (In fact some readers have already said as much with their good ratings and reviews.) But I think most people, even die-hard fans of Korean literature, will find it very hard going, particularly the long installments of the “novel”, and suspect many will not make it to the end, at least if they don’t resort to skimming and skipping like I did. For this reason I rate it a 3.

  • Gabriel C.
    2019-02-13 13:13

    A strange experience. This is in the family (of wildly varying quality) that includes The Last Temptation of Christ, The Sins of Jesus, and Tarot in that its contains as its chief component a wildly heretical revisionist retelling of the life of Jesus. It makes a desultory attempt to avoid the most obvious pitfall by embedding this retelling in a box narrative. But the parts about the hard-boiled cop tracking down clues about this murder are surprisingly flaccid, and there is no compelling or believable reason for the cop to keep reading the blasphemous diaries of his back-burner murder victim. That is, the box is an obvious dodge. But said blasphemous narrative, which follows Ahasuerus (the wandering Jew, the titular son of man) as he travels, as a young man, to Egypt, Babylon, Persia, et alia, in search of religious truth, and then confronts Jesus, is unexpectedly riveting. I say unexpected because thinking through it, the story of his theological questioning and development follows a well-trodden path of cliché; if you had asked me to make up his story before reading it, I would have given a plot which conformed in more or less every detail to what is presented here. And this is apparently intentional: Yi has only limited sympathy and patience for his heretical author. But despite the shopworn plot, the details are consistently delightful, moving, and entertaining, and I raced through these chapters, only regretfully returning, when necessary, to Sergeant Nam in the outer box. The iconoclastic may enjoy this, particularly the iconoclastic mystic; believers in the biblical tradition are advised to steer clear.

  • Brooke Salaz
    2019-01-18 09:57

    Parallel tales of a mysterious unsolved murder of a young man, Min Yoseop who had become disillusioned with Christianity and his novel about a young man Ahasuerus who seems to have been uniquely chosen to learn about human suffering and religions by traveling the world, in an attempt to come to some realization about the correct path. Somewhat melodramatic but made some interesting points about wisdom vs. goodness, freedom vs. justice and how we decide to live.

  • John Collings
    2019-02-15 13:11

    Man fro ages have always tried to discover the meaning of their existence on this earth. It is the reason that so many of us select a religion and live according to its precepts. But what happens when this search leads to murder. This is the premise of Yi Mun-Yol's book about a detective that is investigating the murder of Min Yoseop, a seminary drop-out who went on a quest to discover the true god, and made an attempt to create his own religion in the process. The telling of the story is really two stories in one, the investigation, and the reading of Min Yoseop's rewriting of the bible as told from the perspective of Ahasuerus, a man born on the same day as Jesus and who takes his own journey to self-discovery. The book is a profound look at not only Christianity, but all of the other religions that were born in the region. It shows their connections and exposes some of the flaws that each one of them holds. Though slow at times, it is still a thought provoking novel that gives insight to the Korean culture. It is a great start for anyone exploring this culture because it gives them insight by showing them something they are already familiar with.

  • Aurora
    2019-02-10 07:14

  • Diana Ray
    2019-01-24 10:49

    Inspired, couldn't put it down, just like Mun-Yol's other tales. Refreshing perspective for a western reader, I feel like I've found treasure.

  • !Tæmbuŝu
    2019-02-03 07:04

    Reviewed by The Complete Review