This is the motto of "Memorial Books," the biography that records the lives of ordinary people. Biographies are often considered something only reserved for great heroes who are famous in our society. But in the end, the overall flow of history consists of average people. Perhaps we have been indifferent to the lives of those around us, even those of our parents. "Memorial Books" rediscovers and records the precious values that we miss in our lives. We met Park Beom-jun, the editor of "Memorial Books," who breathes meaning into every life he encounters.
(*This interview is serialized over two issues, with the second part published in next month's issue.)
Q. Hello. Could you please introduce yourself?
Hello. I am Park Beom-jun, the editor of "Memorial Books" at Goomtle Corp. I largely do three things. First, I am the editor at Goomtle, I also operate a library called "Baram Jageun Doseogwan" in Seonheul-ri, Jocheon-eup in Jeju, and I am also a writer. I lived in Seoul until I came to Jeju in 2006 to write. Then I opened "Baram Jageun Doseogwan," and started "Memorial Books" by chance. All three jobs are connected.
Q. How did you begin "Goomtle"?
Soon after I arrived in Jeju, I had a personal crisis. It was difficult to cope with certain relationships. I began hoping to be a mature person who can respect others.
That's when I came to read a book about male psychology, which explained that men are not mature because of their relationship with their fathers. It really resounded with me. Since I was a teenager, I considered my father as someone who was stubborn and didn't share my sentiments. After reading that book, I came to realize that our relationship is related to my immaturity.
In order to get close to my father, the book recommended that I discuss his childhood with him. Since I didn't know anything about the period of his early life, I didn't have to judge it with my values. I found the courage to ask and learned so much that I didn't know about him before. I came to understand him better.
The inspiration from reading was something I wanted to share with others. I also wanted to give my father a gift, to make up for my shortfalls and as a gesture of gratitude. Since I am a writer, I thought of utilizing my potential to publish his life into a book. Father was also very willing.
"If I may imagine, I think I would live on the reminiscence of the past when I'm at the age of my parents. But nobody particularly listens to such stories. He seemed to be happy that his son, who seemed distant, approached first to hear him out."
From then on, I met some friends who sympathized with my thoughts and values. That's how Goomtle started. It's nothing grand or innovative to change the society, but it's an establishment that delivers values and also provides jobs to individuals.
Q. How is a "Memorial Book" created?
Usually we publish stories of families. Daughters and sons produce biographies for their parents. When we first receive an order, we have a brief pre-interview about the daughter or son and their parents. Depending on this content, we assign authors who are from the same region or have the same religion, so they can talk more comfortably. Then we have two longer interviews that last about four hours each. Lastly, we have the clients check the manuscript twice and add extra elements like pictures, account books, and a preface by the children. We then edit and complete the design.
To us, what's important is not whether they're telling us the truth. What matters to us is the story they remember. If that's how they remember their lives, that's meaningful on its own. We try to respect it and record is as close as possible."
Q. What do you think a "Memorial Book" means to the elderly?
We don't think we can embody their lives fully with just two interviews. But we aim to find the meaning of their lives. The thing is, they find it on their own while telling their stories. The authors just run with what they've found.
In fact, their favorite part of the process is the time when we're listening to what they have to say. They are so enthusiastic, almost to the point of making me wonder how they've kept it inside all this time. But at the same time, this means that nobody else particularly paid attention to what they wanted to talk about. That's such a heartache to know. So we listen to them and relay the message to their children who haven't heard it.
Talking about themselves can be a way of healing to the elderly. To tell their stories, they reminisce and remember the meaning of life that had been forgotten. When they read the finished "Memorial Book," it heals them the second time. By reading it on paper, they rethink their lives in a more objective light.
They reflect on themselves, about why they spoke such things and thought in such ways, consoling their soul. For instance, there was a lady who felt wronged that she had to give up her studies and work to sacrifice her life for the lives of her siblings. But over the course of the interviews, she remembered how her siblings always expressed their gratitude. As they find meaning in their lives and that they were central to the family, it helps them heal.
Q. How would you connect the emotions the families feel with social values?
Because our country experienced rapid social changes, we are especially prone to gaps in generational experiences. It results in various social conflicts. For me, the reason such discord exist is because we don't know how to respect each other. Even in work environments, people often don't respect one another. That's why the message of Memorial Book is "respect." We wish to grow the respect toward others from the family. Rather than being taught, the attitude of respect is more naturally developed through relationships. I believe family relationships from childhood have a huge influence here. Comprehensively, our job is about recovering respect within the family. In a narrow view, it's about listening to our parents' stories and respecting their lives as they are told. I believe this is definitely connected to social respect.
Q. Is there a reason for choosing the book format as medium?
To our parents and grandparents' generation, "books" were highly valued. They were rare to find and also considered precious on their own. The elderly consider it very honorable for their names to be printed on a book. Because of such sentiments, I thought it would make them very happy to see a book about their lives with their name on it. You may think it's inefficient to use an analog medium like books, but it's the most appropriate and touching medium for the older generation.
Q. What do you hope to achieve?
We want people to recognize the value of others' lives even though you may think differently from them. No matter how frustrated we are with the older generation, we can't disregard their lives as a whole. While we make the necessary changes, it's important to respect and acknowledge those lives. I hope this attitude can help resolve conflicts in our society.
Also, I hope the culture of making books for the elderly can take root. It'd be wonderful if we would casually say, "It's our parents' 50th wedding anniversary, let's make a book for them." Certainly, traveling overseas or expensive gifts are nice, but wouldn't it be more valuable for the parents to reminisce about every part of their lives and find meaning in their family for their 50th anniversary or 70th birthday? Instead of family genealogies, we now have these books. The genealogies were meaningful back then because we had storytellers in each family to continue the related stories. Now that we don't have such members anymore, I suggest recording the stories in memorial books. I'd love to see this culture grow into a worldwide trend.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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