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Brushstrokes of Christianity

· From the writings of the author Kyung-sook Shin ·

“One night,”Professor Yoon tells his University of Seoul students, “Christopher was fast asleep when he heard a faint voice calling his name. (…) There in the darkness beside the river was a small child. The child told him he had to get to the other side before the night ended, and he asked Christopher to carry him across. The child was so young and his plea so earnest that Christopher agreed to help, despite the late hour. He put the child on his shoulders and entered the river. But the moment he stepped into the river, the water began to rise. In an instant, it nearly reached over the tall Christopher’s head. And that was not all. The child, so light at first, grew heavier the higher the waters rose. The weight, like a massive piece of iron, so unbelievable for such a small child, pressed down on Christopher’s shoulders. The waters rose inch by inch, and the child pressed down on him with its enormous weight. The overly confident Christopher began to tremble with fear for the first time at the thought that he might drown. Barely able to keep his balance with the pole, Christopher plowed his way through the water with the child on his shoulders and just made it to the other side. As he set the child down, he said, ‘I thought I was going to dies because of you. Though you are small, you were so heavy that it felt as if I was carrying the weight of the world. I have carried many across the river, but I have never carried one so heavy as you’. At that moment, the child vanished and Jesus appeared before him, surrounded by a dazzling light”.

Koh-Varilla Guild, "Korean Pieta" (2013)

Professor Yoon paused and looked around the room and asked his speechless students: Are you Christopher or are you the child? The scene is taken from the novel Ill be right there by Kyung-sook Shin. It’s a story about the memory of a distant friendship between three young girls, conceived as a response to the struggles of a young generation to find its place at a time when South Korea was living throughthe upheaval of political revolution. Professor Yoon shows the three girls the way, by encouraging them to risk, to open themselves to the world, and to protect one another along the journey to adulthood.

The story of Christopher is only a flash, but it leaves an interesting brushstroke. For as though illumined from behind there shines forth from the pages of Kyung-sook Shin a country touched by Christianity in its encounter (sometimes successful, sometimes less) with the traditional Korean society.

Born in 1963 in a mountainous region of South Korea, the fourth of six children, at the age of 16 Shin moved to Seoul. By day she worked (and sent the money home), and at night she went to school. She made her literary debut in 1985, at the age of just 22, with the novella Winters Fable.

The first woman and the first Korean to win the Man Asian Literary Prize, the most prestigious award on her continent, Kyung-sook Shin became famous in the literary world with the novel Please look after Mom, which tells the story of a family whose mother,afflicted with Alzheimer’s, goes missing.

The brushstrokes here are wonderful. Once the faint traces of the old woman have disappeared, the youngest daughter, passing through Rome and having bought the rosary that her mother had asked for a long time ago, goes to pray at St. Peter’s. “Please look after Mom”: in a city that has nothing in common with the story of her mother, the daughter is finally able to utter her cry of pain before the Pieta, by turning to the Mother holding in her arms her Son who has died.

Standing before her who does what no mother should ever have to do, the daughter discovers the ability to trust.(giulia galeotti)

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