Son of Man

Yi Mun-yol

translated from the Korean by Brother Anthony
Dalkey Archive Press 2015 [1979]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2018 http://dannyreviews.com/
When a guest in a prayer house is found murdered, Sergeant Nam's colleagues look for easy answers — money or a woman — and then give up, but he travels around the country looking into the victim's life, uncovering an abandoned seminary education, a commitment to helping the poor, the acquisition of a disciple, and a novel he was working on. And more than half of Son of Man is taken up by this embedded historical-theological novel, about a disillusioned Jew Ahasuerus who travels to Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, India, and Rome looking for religious answers, then returns to Palestine and disputes with Jesus.

The embedded novel is surprisingly engaging, with Ahasuerus' encounters with temple priests, mad antiquarians, cult leaders and so forth making up a series of linked stories which cleverly combine adventure and theology. The latter incorporates ideas from gnostic Christianity, but also still relevant debates about the balance between this-worldly and other-worldly concerns; these ideological aspects sometimes take precedence over any historical accuracy. The framing story is quite a contrast, a psychological detective story full of detail — not of policing, but of society and everyday life in 1970s South Korea.

Newcomers to Yi Mun-yol would probably be better off starting with Our Twisted Hero or The Poet. Son of Man can be read without any involvement in theological questions per se, but the reader needs to understand — or, like Nam, come to understand — how these questions can matter to people.

February 2018

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Related reviews:
- Yi Mun-yol - The Poet
- Yi Mun-yol - Our Twisted Hero
- more Korean literature
- more detective fiction
- books about religion
- books published by Dalkey Archive Press
%T Son of Man
%A Yi Mun-yol
%M Korean
%F Anthony, Brother
%I Dalkey Archive Press
%D 2015 [1979]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9781628971194
%P 242pp