South Korea
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Yi Mun-yol

Yi Mun-yol

South Korean writer
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro South Korean writer
A.K.A. Lee Mun-yeol
Countries South Korea
Occupations Writer
Gender male
Birth 18 May 1948 (Seoul)
Star sign Taurus
Education Seoul National University
The details

Yi Mun-yol (born May 18, 1948) is a South Korean writer.


Yi Mun-yol was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1948, but the outbreak of the Korean War and his father's defection to North Korea forced his family to move about until they settled in Yeongyang, Gyeongsangbuk-do, the ancestral seat of his family. The fact that his father defected dramatically affected his life, as he was seen and treated as "the son of a political offender," and was "passed around among relatives After dropping out of the College of Education of Seoul National University in 1970, Yi Mun-yol made his literary debut through the annual literary contests of the Daegu Maeil Newspaper in 1977, and the Dong-A Ilbo in 1979. On being awarded the prestigious "Today's Writer Award" for The Son of Man in 1979, Yi emerged as the most noteworthy writer of the time. The Son of Man explores the theme of the complex relationship between God and humanity in light of the finite nature of human existence inadvertently cast in an infinite universe, through the eyes of the protagonist who is doubtful of the Christian Weltanschauung. From 1994 to 1997, he taught Korean language and literature at Sejong University. Since 1999, he has also served as the head of Buak Literary Center, a residential program for budding writers. He is currently a chair professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.


Yi has written novels, short stories, and political and social commentaries. Yi Mun-yol has since published numerous novels including The Son of Man (Saramui adeul), Wild Ox (Deulso), For the Vanished Things (Sarajin geotdeureul wihayeo), The Shadow of Darkness (Eodumui geuneul), Hail to the Emperor! (Hwangjereul wihayeo), A Snail’s Outing (Dalpaengiui oechul), and At This Desolate Station (I hwangnyanghan yeogaeseo).

Yi Mun-yol’s literary tendencies can be split into two categories. The first category, as represented by Hail to the Emperor! (Hwangjereul wihayeo), Until We Become Happy (Uriga haengbokhae jigikkaji), and Our Twisted Hero (Urideurui ilgeureojin yeongung), contains works that explore social injustice using elements of fable and attempt to work out new solutions to those problems . The other category, represented by A Portrait of Youthful Days (Jeolmeunnarui chosang) and You Will Never Return to Your Homeland (Geudae dasineun gohyangae gaji mothari), comprises works that utilize autobiographical materials to examine existential angst, identity loss, and the implosion of community. In the first category, Yi typically presents allegorical views of Korea society, tracing the ways in which various lives are shaped and governed by dominant ideology and power. In the second category, Yi focuses on his internal world, fictionalizing his experience of growing up and the process by which his worldview was formed.

With the huge success of the critically acclaimed Hail to the Emperor!, Yi established himself as one of the most significant and popular novelists in Korea. The novel deals with the heated competition of imperial world powers around Korea at the end of the 19th century and goes on through the Japanese colonial era, the Korean War and the period of military dictatorial rule, penetrating through the modern history of Korea. With a Don Quixote-esque protagonist, the novel adopts a rich traditional style of prose displaying a comprehensive understanding of traditional East Asian literature, and drawing readers into the narrative with powerful descriptions of the turbulent history of Korea.

Our Twisted Hero, set in the latter part of the era of military dictatorial rule, brings us a microcosm of society as demonstrated in an elementary school classroom, which serves as a metaphor for the larger society as a whole.. In Homo Executants Yi explores how stiffened political ideologies smother humans, tracing the annihilation of the flexibility in human nature. The Golden Phoenix, for which Yi Mun-yol was awarded the Dong-in Literary Award in 1972 uses paintings and calligraphic works of the traditional arts to express to the reader the conflict between the technical skill of creativity and the art of the cultivation of personality.

Having been awarded almost every major national literary prize, Yi has also had his works translated into 16 different languages and published in 20 countries. One of his works was also selected by the German Literature Society as one of the best publications of 2011. In 2011, Yi Mun-yol was also the first Korean fiction writer to have a story appear in The New Yorker ("An Anonymous Island," translated by Heinz Insu Fenkl).


– Today's Writer Award (1979)
– Dong-in Literary Award (1982)
– Korea Literature Prize (1983)
– Joongang Literary Award (1984)
– Yi Sang Literary Award (1987)
– Hyundae Munhak Prize (1992)
– Republic of Korean Culture and Arts Award (1992)
– France Medal of Cultural and Artistic Merit(1992)
– 21st Century Literature Award (1998)
– Ho-am Prize for the Arts (1999)
– The National Academy of Arts Award (2009)

– Dongni Literature Prize (2012)


  • The Son of Man (Saram-ui adeul 1979)
  • Wild Ox (Deulso) (1979)
  • Hail to the Emperor! (Hwangjae-reul wihayeo 1980)
  • A Snail's Outing(1980)
  • At This Desolate Station(1980)
  • Geumsijo(1983)
  • Lette's Story (Lette-ui yeon-ga) (1983)
  • The Age of Heroes (Yeongungsidae) (1984)
  • The Poet and the Thief'
  • The Night Before, Or the Last Night of This Era
  • Our Twisted Hero (Urideul-ui ilgeureojin yeongung 1987), which was made into a 1992 film, directed by Park Chong-won
  • The Golden Phoenix(1987)
  • The Poet (Si-in 1991)
  • The Shadow of Darkness(1991)
  • The Border (Byeongyeong)(1994)
  • An Appointment with My Brother(1994)
  • For the Vanished Things(1995)
  • Frontier Between Two Empires (epic novel in 12 Volumes, 1998)
  • Homo Executans (Homo ekskutanseu 2006)
  • Lithuanian Woman (Lituania yeoin 2011)

Works in Translation (English)

  • Hail to the Emperor! (Pace International Research, 1986)
  • An Appointment with My Brother (Jimoondang, 1994)
  • The Poet (The Harvill, 1995)
  • Our Twisted Hero (Hyperion, 2001)
  • Pilon's Pig (ASIA Publishers, 2013)
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