To learn about the past, one can look into different kinds of information sources. There are news reports, documentaries, books, and more. However, when the past is remembered as a story, it has more impact. A story can rediscover individuals who were once hidden behind numbers and figures. It can reveal emotion and experience. It is a Lie (2016), a novel written by Kim Taek Hwan, resurrects some of the people related to the dreadful Sewol ferry disaster. Written from the perspective of a diver, it poignantly delivers and preserves the hidden stories of people we need to remember.
Based on the Sewol ferry disaster, Kim’s It is a Lie is written from the perspective of a diver who participated in the process of retrieving the bodies from the sunken ship. It is based on the accounts of the late Kim Kwan Hong, a real-life diver and the model for the main character. This novel was nominated for the 2016 “This Year’s Book,” handpicked by publishing industry insiders. Furthermore, it is to be adapted into a film by director Oh Myul this year. A few books and documentaries have been written and produced concerning the Sewol ferry disaster, but this novel stands out.
The most striking feature of this book is its perspective. Other books on the disaster concentrate on the students who died, their families, or the survivors. This book, though, focuses on the supporting roles the divers played. They went into the pitch-dark sea not to save the students’ lives, but to retrieve the students’ bodies and return them to their families. Most were industrial divers who had never witnessed a dead body in such conditions. While diving itself can be risky, swimming inside a sunken ship that is on the verge of collapsing is another matter entirely. They suffered from decompression, the diver’s disease, and emotional pain afterwards, but the government has not provided them any assistance in coping with their troubles.
While not confining itself to the divers’ world, the novel successfully reminds the readers that a whole different kind of pain was caused by the incident when looked at from another point of view. Yet the novel does not descend into excessive sentimentality. As the experiences of the divers were overlooked, this book deserves a large readership.
We are not finished. We should learn and remember what actually happened. This novel can play a part in that. April 16, 2014, will not be an easy date to forget. It was not just a tragic incident. It was the trigger to the exposure of corrupt corporations, horrifyingly ineffective governmental agencies, and careless press. It is an ongoing and pressing issue of the current Korean society. It is a wound that is forever imprinted in the hearts of the people and the history of the nation. It is lucky that there is a novel like this that clears misunderstandings and questions the unclearness. A line in the novel says, “We only need one person to start speaking out.” This novel is speaking up, and it is our turn to listen to its story.