Monday, August 27, 2012

Tendrils of Life Themes and Symbols


Essentially an anti-war novel, Tendrils of Life encompasses the themes of love and hope, greed and revenge, war and corruption; strife between families, war's effect on individuals and families, finding the meaning of life and choosing how one should live. Passages toward the end, exemplified by one on page 367 hint some desirable choices: "He [Teacher Yang] became a real teacher: about nature, about life, and about how one should live - for himself and according to his own values, not to prove himself to others." An overarching theme is the resilience of the human spirit.


Iodo is a legendary island everyone wants to find; it symbolizes one's ideal goal in life, but is difficult, if not impossible, to reach.

Ockdo is a "real" island; it symbolizes an achievable goal and what one should be content with.

Jimin carries a seashell from his island and squeezes it whenever he misses his old home. It symbolizes the yearning for one's past and the safety of home.

Jimin misses the sunset on Ockdo. It gives him the hope that the sun will rise again when he feels despair.

When Jimin loses his strength to go on he thinks about the waves constantly breaking on the shore of his island, and that image restores his strength.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tendrils of Life Synopsis 4

Plot Overview

Part Four

(Part Four Synopsis is intentionally left out.)

Tendrils of Life Synopsis 3

Plot Overview

Part Three

With the help of Unhee, a young widow he meets upon arriving in Hadong, Jimin decides to go to Seoul to find his father as well as Sora, whom he assumes had gone back to her old home. He persuades Misern to stay, while he is away, with the owner’s family of the house in Hadong where they live. But he sees her in the bus station and tells her to go back. When she starts to cry, Jimin reluctantly buys another ticket.

Sora’s mother dies in October. And Sora—her wound healed but with a scar on her face—finds out that her father, a lieutenant colonel in the southern army, had been killed in battle in July, and that her home in Seoul had been destroyed by bombs. She heads toward her childhood home near Pyongyang; along the way four southern army soldiers rape her. She finally nears her old home, but can’t get through the roadblock the southern army troops have set up in a last stand against the oncoming Chinese troops who have entered the war. Sora turns back and follows the refugee column south.

When Jimin and Misern arrive in Seoul, they find their former home destroyed, but the old man in the owner’s family has returned alone and is staying in a half-collapsed room. They learn that their father had come looking for them twice, and they stay with the old man.

Jimin’s father, now ill with tuberculosis, stays in a mountain north of Seoul with other fugitives because he doesn’t have the proper papers to go out in public. As the Chinese troops draw closer, he heads toward his former home in Seoul to find his children, but he collapses in the refugee column. One of his former classmates, a one-star general, recognizes him while passing by and takes him to an army field hospital.

Jimin and Misern stay alone in the half-collapsed room after the old man heads south. Misern is anxious to leave Seoul, but Jimin wants to wait until the last minute, afraid that he will never again see Sora if he leaves. As he goes out to earn some money on Christmas morning, he promises Misern that they will head south when he comes back. But he gets picked up by the military police from the street and is forced to join the newly formed Defense Militia. During the march toward the training camp near Busan, Jimin is near death and is left in a roadside house to die.

After following the refugee column for twenty days, Sora arrives in Seoul on Christmas Eve, ill and about to collapse. A kind-looking man takes her to an inn, but on New Year’s Eve, he drugs her and then rapes her. Sora finds out he is a pimp who plans to use her as a prostitute. She steals his stash of money and joins the refugee column again.

Two weeks later, still in the refugee column, Sora comes across Jimin, skeletal and almost unrecognizable. After finding out what had happened, she takes him toward her mother’s hometown Sunchon (near Hadong), first on an ox-cart, then by train. Partisans (communist guerillas) have derailed a train along the way and Jimin and Sora have to walk to the next stop for another train. Sora hires a man to carry Jimin and they continue in the snow. When they reach the train wreck, Jimin refuses to go farther south. He insists on going to the village where he and his sister had visited in the summer and staying there until they could go back to Seoul to rescue his sister.

Sora and Jimin sojourn in that village for three months. At night partisans come down and demand food, and during the day the police harass the villagers for providing food to partisans.

The UN troops regroup and retake Seoul in March, and Sora goes there alone to find Misern, but she returns without success. A few days later, southern soldiers who come into the area to exterminate partisans take Jimin and other villagers to a field where a large crowd is assembled, and open fire on them. Jimin miraculously survives and comes back wounded; Sora hides him in a cave. When his health improves, they consummate their love, then travel slowly toward Hadong, taking local buses from town to town and enjoying their newly discovered passion. Jimin believes that Misern is with his father in Hadong. Sora does not have the heart to tell him otherwise.

After ten days they are on the final leg of their journey when a group of disguised partisans led by a one-eyed man hijack the bus. They separate out men, including Jimin, making them carry grain sacks to a partisan-controlled area in the JiriSan. Sinman had belonged to the band, but earlier in March, just before they raided Hadong, he tipped off his police chief father. When his former cronies captured the band leader, Sinman ordered them to gouge out one of his eyes as revenge for five months of suffering under the cruel man. But he had later escaped.

Now the one-eyed man intends to force the men from the hijacked bus to join his band because he had lost many of his own when Sinman betrayed him. An old man called Teacher Yang, a young man named Wonsik, and Jimin try to escape, but they encounter groups of policemen led by Sinman, who shoot at them; a man who had decided to accompany the trio is fatally hit, and they turn back.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Tendrils of Life Synopsis 2

Plot Overview

Part Two

Three weeks into the wayfaring, half way to their destination, Jimin is near starvation. A badly deformed girl, injured in the war, rescues him. But Jimin cannot warm to her because of her disfigured face. But in the ensuing talk, he finds that she had lived in America and is much more intelligent than he. Jimin begins to like her and finally falls for her. After five days of stay at her place, before he and his sister depart, the girl reveals that she is the very girl named Sora, with whom he had been secretly in love, living next door to her in Seoul. Sora talks about her family’s ordeal in the refugee column, how her sister was killed in a massacre, and how she and her mother were injured in a bombing raid. Jimin wants to stay longer but he and his sister have to depart in order to meet up with their father and return to Ockdo to survive.

After traveling for a month and a half, Jimin and Misern finally reach Hadong and meet their grandmother and uncle, but learn that their father had left for Seoul on foot three days earlier.

On September 15, UN troops make an amphibious landing at Inchon, take back Seoul two weeks later after pulverizing the city, and then advance north almost unchecked. The North Korean soldiers trapped in the South flee into the mountains, become guerrillas, plunder villages, and wreak havoc.

Sinman comes back to Hadong after the Inchon landing and tries to return to his former life, but the rumor that he had been an interior worker and had murdered Jimin’s mother is all over town, so he heads to the JiriSan (the Jiri Mountains) and joins a partisan band.

Jimin’s uncle, who has served under the communist regime for a short period to earn a living, also heads into the JiriSan; Jimin and his grandmother struggle to survive. Jimin and Misern are left alone again with their grandmother’s sudden death.

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