Authors pick up their pens for various reasons. In the case of The Black Flower (2013), author Kim Young Ha attempts to shed light on a history that was once invisible. Through the words of Kim, the stories of Korean immigrants who moved to Mexico in the early 20th century breathe alive. The book delivers stories of suffering, pain, and hardship that our ancestors went through, while, ironically enough, delivering hope by teaching lessons about how to love life.
Under unlawful colonization by the Japanese, the characters in The Black Flower a ship heading to Mexico, an unknown but seemingly promising land with more freedom. However, the gap between their expectation and reality turns out to be quite devastating. Among the 1,030 immigrants who headed to Mexico, 11 people are put in the spotlight. Their backgrounds range from noblemen to working-class men in the Joseon Dynasty. Through their arduous journey to Mexico by ship, their life at a Mexican farm, and their ambition to build a utopia called Shin-Daehan, the characters’ stories roll out like a panorama.
▲ Cover of The Black Flower. Provided by book.naver.com
One of the recurring themes in the novel is the universality of human characteristics and behaviors. In Mexico, which was deemed as a land of opportunities, there existed many negative aspects of life just like those in Korea back then. There were ruthless farm owners, people who exploited their socio-economic positions, and people who suffered. There were men who abused women and treated them poorly. This is an uncomfortable truth that prevails until now. This is why their utopia failed and their history was diluted into ordinariness and eventually became forgotten.
However, the fact that all human beings share similar sets of good and poor qualities is more of a life-affirming truth than a discouraging one; acknowledging the inexistence of perfection can allow people to be more content with their own space and time. The characters built a utopian nation of their own called Shin-Daehan and it collapsed shortly after its establishment. Readers now know that there is no utopia. They could start changing small parts of themselves and the surrounding world around them, rather than wasting time being obsessed in the search of a non-existing land of perfection. Furthermore, those small attempts could, in fact, lead to a prompting of an unexpected revolution.
▲ Photo of Kim Young Ha. Provided by readersnews.com
The Black Flower received the Dong Yin Literar y Prize for this very trait— the realistic portrayal of the universality of human characters. The commentary read, “The Black Flower is a captivating novel,” “The writer did not enlarge the people’s sufferings to squeeze out the readers’ tears and fall into the trap of sentimentalism. He also was not tempted to continue the book with a heroic character and his will only to overcome the difficulties.” This book certainly teaches the readers how to maintain a balanced and unbiased attitude towards life.
In addition, this book deserves its praise for resurrecting the once dead people and bringing their stories to life. Before this book, not many people knew about the lives of Mexican immigrants. These people may not be of utmost historical importance, but the beautiful and tragic lives of theirs are worth being remembered. They are a hidden history that came alive through Kim’s imagination and facts.
So many characters and an unfamiliar historical background may intimidate the readers from picking up this book. However, by reading this book, one will be able to learn a thing or two in life, and view the world with much more gratitude and love. Also, our Mexican ancestors who were just as fragile as us will rest peacefully, knowing that their lives had not been in vain.