Book Review: Was that Mountain Really There? By Park Wan-suh (Translated by Hannah Kim)

Reviewed by Anushka Ray

Was that Mountain Really There

Title: Was that Mountain Really There?
Author: Park Wan-suh
Translator: Hannah Kim
Publisher: Kitaab International Pte ltd
Pages: 332
Buy

Autobiographies typically present the picture of perfect bravery; they are a testament to fortified bulwarks authors build up as they trudge along, with a complimentary voice depicting a clear story line and eventual victory. Was that Mountain Really There? is rare in its sense where the narrator remains at her core so impenetrably humble and human, it is no longer a retelling of a story. Instead, it becomes a reflection on adolescence, a growing up which just so happened to coincide with the 1950-1953 Korean War. Park Wan-suh upholds an honest narrative voice, with a raw sincerity that transforms even the most tumultuous of moments into something delicate and fragile.

Every word has a distinct purpose. Even the seemingly mindless title is explained in the author’s foreword, with the retelling of how Wan-suh witnessed the construction of a new gymnasium in replacement of a hideous mound in her hometown. This development, although praised by the neighbourhood, somehow struck a chord within her, as she campaigns to immortalize the memory of the small hill. The strange memory effortlessly portrays the sense of futility which existed in her childhood, especially growing up in an age where everything around was demolished. It is this fear of history being forgotten which compelled Wan-suh to publish the novel, a way to tell the world ‘that’s how we lived’.

Was that Mountain Really There? explores the life of author Park Wan-suh as a 20-year-old caught in the Korean War in 1951. Accompanied by her relatives, Wan-suh navigates the eruptive state of Korea, where the constant battle for power between the North and South Koreans controls their actions. She navigates the country both literally and figuratively, as she briefly escapes Seoul and finds a short-lived refuge in Gyoha (part of the then country Paju) before returning home. While a palpable fear is instilled from the opening pages with Wan-suh’s brother suffering from a North Korean inflicted gun wound, there is a clear reluctance to encounter South Korean soldiers due to the family’s previous communist history. All this accumulates to a constant state of paranoia when faced with any militia, and an underlying commentary on whether either army was in the right. This paranoia sustains throughout the novel but gradually grows subdued and muted, dictating their decisions yet not exposing them to any violence.

dilip-kumar

No book on Hindi cinema has ever been as keenly anticipated as this one. That is understandable. The Substance and the Shadow is after all the autobiography of the one and only Dilip Kumar.

dilip-bookA thinking actor with mass appeal, a rare breed in this celebrity-obsessed country, the iconic star had hitherto kept his personal life under wraps.

That life has been anything but ordinary. The night Yousuf Khan, the Pathan boy who would be India’s Tragedy King, was born in Kissa Khwani Bazaar, Peshawar, in 1922, a major fire broke out in the locality even as a severe blizzard raged.

General VK Singh has perhaps been India’s most controversial Army chief since Independence. Excerpts from an interview with him: OPEN

VKSinghGeneral VK Singh has perhaps been India’s most controversial Army chief since Independence. For a year’s extension in office, he took the Government to court over a dispute on his age. Since his retirement in May 2012, he has been politically active. He has taken part in political rallies, protests and dharnas, and even made public statements on an issue that conventional wisdom would consider a State secret. His autobiography, titled Courage and Conviction, has just been published. “Shoot!” he commands. “Shooting is your job, I just have some questions,” Mihir Srivastava of Open tells him. He laughs. They are seated in Room No 83 of the Annexe of India International Centre in New Delhi. Excerpts from an interview: