An iconic novel that captures the essence of Jeju 4·3
“Sun-i Samch’on” (published in English as ‘Aunt Suni’) is Hyun Ki-young’s short novel that vividly depicts the lasting trauma of the Bukchon Massacre, the bloodiest atrocity of Jeju 4·3. The story was published in the September print issue of Changbi (a quarterly magazine of literary criticism) in 1978. The story is considered one of the greatest Korean literary achievements given the circumstances of its publication at a time when historical materials about Jeju 4·3 were sparse and victims’ families would rarely speak about the tragedy. Still regarded as an iconic novel, the story is the first public reference to Jeju 4.3, talk of which was considered taboo for decades.
Hyun was the first in the literary realm to discuss the truth hidden behind Jeju 4·3 by retelling the Bukchon Massacre from the perspective of typical Jeju villagers. In this context, “Sun-i Samch’on” is referred to as a controversial work that best represents the 1970s, an era of great significance in South Korean literature and history. After its publication, the author suffered greatly as his book was not only banned from being distributed but he was tortured by the state for having written it. However, “Sun-i Samch’on” brought new vitality to research on Jeju 4·3 and had a tremendous impact on the overall cultural sphere in South Korea including in literature, fine arts and theater.