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Art&CultureReview
The world of violence through a young boy's eyes'Nation of Flowers' (꽃의 나라), a novel by Han Chang Hoon
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승인 2011.11.26  07:48:19
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At the start of this year, my brother was beaten up on the street and had to be hospitalized. This experience left me terrified at how men can resort to violence to solve anything. Then I read a review of a book dealing with structural violence. Curious, I picked up a copy.

In Han Chang Hoon’s latest novel “Nation of Flowers,” (published in August) he presents the first irony through the title — instead of flowers and beauty, the book is the epitome of machismo, based mainly on structural violence. The novel shows how violence develops from family, friends, and teacher-student relationships, with roots in a militaristic society.

Written in first person, the story starts with the narrator entering a city away from his hometown, to enroll in an all-boys high school. He leaves his hometown to escape violence, only to have his hope of becoming “a happy person” shattered at the end of the first chapter when he is beaten by a group of older boys.

The book is divided into two parts. Part one takes place during the military president’s regime; part two is before the military president’s death in 1979 and the rise of a general.

Although not specifically named, readers can guess that the military president is President Park Chung Hee (in power from 1962), and the general from part two is general-turned-president Chun Doo Hwan (in power from 1980 to 1988).

The main focus for part two surrounds the events of the Gwangju Democratization Movement. This was the university students uprising in Gwangju City against President Chun Doo Hwan which eventually led to indiscriminate suppression and killings of the city’s inhabitants.

The novel progresses through the rites of passage for an adolescent boy. The narrator becomes curious about intimacy between boys and girls, such as kissing, and confessing to first love, visiting red light districts, and other activities.

In the first part, the novel introduces the structural violence that runs among the boys and from the school. The narrator’s new high school has a tradition of violence, being the third most violent school in the country.

The school is characterised by corporal punishment from the teachers and violence between gangs of students. The culture of structural violence is well explained by the narrator who says: “Yes, boys get beaten up and hit others, things just work that way.”

In part two of the book, the setting shifts from the school to the city and the degree of violence only increases. Using words such as “Justice, Democracy, (and) Cause,” students demonstrate against a new dictator. In the spirit of these demonstrations, the students in the narrator’s high school subsequently rebel against their imposing teachers.

Although never specified, the author presents the use of fear as the Gwangju Democratization Movement which ends in the use of brute aggression by the “military general” in response to the university students’ demonstrations.

The imagery of violence escalates as the novel progresses. Innocence disappears as the students are unable to escape from the indiscriminate violence and loss of loved ones. Of all the unsettling elements in the book, however, the graphic sexual violence directed at the female characters is perhaps the most disturbing.

Although there are occasional flashes of humor, the novel provides no resolution, nor catharsis, for the character. The author makes a note at the end of the novel: “I do not believe in the word ‘hope’... [but] believe in ‘hatred.’”

Han Chang Hoon was born in 1963, a generation that witnessed a great amount of violence including the Gwangju Democratization Movement. The sentence, written in bold at the end of the note, reads, “I wanted to start all over, at somewhere else.”

The bitterness of the novel led me to hope that Jeju, the “Island of Peace,” would finally be able to free itself from its violent past.


Please note that as of this writing, “Nation of Flowers” is available in Korean only. — Ed.



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