“The Prisoner” by Hwang Sok-yong
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Featured on The Thread: In this memoir, prison is a place — and a state of mind
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 moves between his imprisonment and his life--as a boy in Pyongyang, 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, narrates the dramatic revolutions and transformations of one life and of Korean society during the twentieth century.