Anatolij Kim's Onlirija

Hyoungju Kim, Brown University

Anatolij Andreevich Kim, a Korean-Russian writer, was born in 1939. In 1994, he won a Moscow Literary Prize for his Village of the Centaur: A Novel. A year later he published Onlirija, which was considered analogous to the so-called Magical Realism by critics, as appeared in Novyj Mir in February and March issues. Onlirija is his attempt, still in line with his previous Father-Forest and Village of the Centaur, both in themes and techniques, to convey his distinguishing approach to the immortality as well as the Weltanschauung of the author, which is a distinctive mixture of Greek myth (Orpheus myth, for example, is the basis of this story), the idea of the Christian Millennium, and the oriental concept of Samsara (transmigration of souls) which itself gives the whole work its unique structure.

A lot of important critical works have been written on Kim by American and Korean scholars in recent years (particularly studies by Pavel Nerler and C. K. Kwon). The majority of research has been directed towards exploring many subtexts and the rich mesh of allusions in Kim's works. According to C. K. Kwon (1994), previous critics have approached Kim's works with the following three specifics in mind. 1) His non-Russianness: He is a part of the third generation of Korean-Russians. Kim, however, unlike his compatriots, was born in Kazaxstan and then moved to Saxalin when he was young. The history of the Korean people on Saxalin Island is often cited along with the enforced migration to Kazaxstan by order of Stalin in 1937. His Korean ancestry enabled him a deep understanding of Buddhism and its application into his stories. Several Buddhist themes such as Samsara recur frequently. 2) His works are often recognized in relation to Magical Realism after Garcia Marquez (Min-Ja Sim). 3) The unique structure of the narrative has been interpreted with the Baxtinian concept of polyphony.

Focusing on Kim's Onlirija, this paper will analyze Kim's stylistic and narrative techniques, which until recently, have been largely misrepresented or not satisfactorily looked into. I will argue that his Korean nature is only skin-deep and his work is deeply rooted in his Russian literary heritage. This insightful understanding of the notion of Samsara gives his works a completely exceptional structure, allowing a mystical submersion into cyclical time in Onlirija. Most of his heroes appear to be Korean (except in Father-Forest and some other works) and have a distinct ethnic background. However, except his early sketches of Korean peoples on Saxalin Island, his heroes tend to have more Russian mindset not in a traditional sense but in the sense of Cosmopolitanism.

The search for elements of Magical Realism in his works is neither legitimate nor effective since there is no issue of history or sense of history. According to Brooke-Rose, Hume, and Hutcheon, Magical Realist texts present elements of a mimetically realistic world alongside myths, legends, and magic of a native culture tradition without distinguishing a hierarchy between them. By accepting and presenting both worlds as authentic and legitimate, the Magical Realist text undermines the superiority of the "colonizing," non-native culture and provides a way to celebrate the national identity of the non-dominant culture.

It is true that his works have a complex voice structure and the absence of a strong authorial position. However, in his case, the complex voice structure differs from the Baxtinian notion of polyphony, since it is made possible by Samsara. Most characters and their voices are called "we," as in Squirrel, since these characters are "one" and just take a different "next" bodies and voices.

My paper proceeds to examine the concrete manifestations of theses points in Kim's work. In the context of contemporary Russian society, especially when discussing religion and spirituality in post-Soviet Russia, Anatolij Kim rather develops tradition themes: the relationship of literature to life, the nature of evil, and the question of immortality.