The Martyred

The Martyred

Set in mid-war Korea, The Martyred follows a South Korean intelligence officer's investigation into the deaths of 12 North Korean ministers by Communist forces. What is the truth, what is propaganda, and what is faith? And what is it to be an alien or a friend, a saint or an apostate, in the criss-crossing lines of shared ethnic identity, civil war, and western ideologically-driven nation building?

Reviews of the The Martyred

This has little to do with anything, though the Chinese advance to recapture the capital later adds a degree of tension to the novel's final acts. Thing is, two ministers survived and get involved in the main character's attempts to discover the truth of what really happened. There are so many ambiguities and cross-thoughts in the novel, that discovering the next exasperating and disturbing turn of events is one of the joys of the work.

But Kim's talent is considerable, and it is good that Penguin Classics rescued The Martyred in 2011 from its undeserved post-Cold-War oblivion, not only because the consequences of the unfinished Korean War confront the world every day in the news, but also because it is a very good novel. The Martyred is set during the very early days of the Korean War and narrated by Captain Lee, a former university professor of humanities now serving in the army. It opens in Pyongyang during the brief phases in which the South held the city, and it concerns the execution of twelve Christian ministers by the Communists on the eve of the war. We must dare to hope against despair because we are men."While respectful to Christianity as a way of giving significance to Korea's nearly unendurable modern experience of war and pain, the novel ultimately recommends an ethic of stoical endurance beyond all ideology and abstraction, the moderation praised by Camus in The Rebel. They gazed at each other as if they understood the esoteric message of the bell.Since The Martyred is not very well known, I will keep this to a brief review rather than a full-scale interpretation and suggest only that you read it if you admire novels of passionate dialectic and harsh realism, as well as if you want a fictional supplement to, or aesthetic consolation for, the bad news about the prolonged continuation (let us hope not to the death) of the last century's wars.

All of that said though, the discussion of the nature and impact of truth through the first and second acts strike me as painfully and conversation-alteringly relevant, and I would recommend it for that and other reasons, cautioning the potential reader not to ask of the book more than its purpose, which is to debate and complicate the questions that form its central concerns (I found myself doing that, which is why I do not rate it more highly.

Richard E Kim was a Korean born author who emigrated to the US in 1955 at the age of 23, became an American citizen and was educated in political science, history and writing. Captain Lee, Army Intelligence, is ordered by Colonel Chang to investigate the killing of 12 Christian ministers by the Communists. If you know Korean War history, which I did not and had to look up, there was a time early in the war in mid 1950 when the South Korean army occupied the northern city of Pyongyang. Colonel Chang is close-mouthed about his reasons for the investigation but Captain Lee is one who follows orders without much questioning. That is no small thing in these troubled political times when North Korea is still communist with no love for America.

A must read book A Christian Tome No Doubt but still an absolutely outstanding novel.

  • English

  • Fiction

  • Rating: 4.00
  • Pages: 228
  • Publish Date: 1964 by Pocket Cardinal