A sweeping account of modern Korean history told through one writer's imprisonment—in time, in language, and in a divided country—from Korea’s most acclaimed novelist.
In 1993, writer and democracy activist Hwang Sok-yong was sentenced to five years in the Seoul Detention Center upon his return to South Korea from North Korea, the country he had fled with his family as a child at the start of the Korean War. Already a dissident writer well-known for his part in the democracy movement of the 1980s, Hwang’s imprisonment forced him to consider the many prisons to which he was subject—of thought, of writing, of Cold War nations, of the heart.
In this capacious memoir, Hwang's life is set against the volatile political backdrop of modern Korea, a country subject to colonialism, Cold War division, a devastating war, decades of authoritarian dictatorships, a mass democratic uprising, and a still-lingering, painful division between North and South. The Prisoner moves between Hwang's imprisonment and scenes from his life—as a boy in Pyongyang and Seoul, as a young activist protesting South Korea’s military dictatorships, as a soldier in the Vietnam War, as a dissident writer first traveling abroad—and in so doing, braids his extraordinary life into the dramatic revolutions and transformations of Korean society during the twentieth century.