“The Winter Republic” was a label given by a dissident poet to the dictatorial rule of the South Korean leader Park Chung-hee, who led the country from 1962 until 1979; the regime imprisoned and tortured the poet for his impudence. This beautifully written book analyzes the work of four other authors whose fiction and poetry exposed political oppression and social injustice during that time. Perhaps the best known is Kim Chi-ha, whose scatological poem “Five Bandits” alludes to the corruption of high figures in government. The Park regime confirmed its bad conscience by jailing Kim for most of its time in power. The other three writers were equally quirky, brave, and talented. Ryu’s close readings bring these fascinating works alive even for those who don’t read Korean. Park’s successor, Chun Doo-hwan, would later say that Park had “lost his fight against books.”
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