The plight of ordinary Koreans caught in wartime is also the focus of Junghyo Ahn’s “Silver Stallion.” Ahn’s novel presents a village society turned upside down, described with the clarity and innocence of a young boy, Mansik, who studies the adult world as the war upsets it. The villagers hear distantly of a war being fought to “liberate” them, but the promise means little to them; 10 years ago they were “liberated” from the Japanese, to little effect in their mountain village. Yet the delicate social relationships that have dictated behavior in peacetime are unraveled by the hardships of war. Prostitutes, whose fortunes increase with the arrival of foreign soldiers, are suddenly emboldened to offer a respectable woman money for her house, which they have selected as perfect for their business.
In the minds of the local children, the war is confused with the legend of a Korean hero who rides a silver stallion and will emerge from his hiding place to save the land again. The children amuse themselves with a search for cave where the hero bides his time, and when U.N. forces set up a camp nearby, the children have real warriors to occupy their interest. As they keep watch on the camp, digging through the refuse heaps and learning the details of the foreigners’ lives, they spy on women from their village who meet with the soldiers in a place called “Texas Town.” Mansik’s mother becomes one of these women.
“Silver Stallion” is the second book in Ahn’s trilogy in progress, which began with last year’s “The White Badge,” a novel about Korean soldiers fighting side-by-side with American forces in Vietnam. The third book will jump forward in time again and concern contemporary events. Ahn, who made his own translations of the first two books and translated many English books into Korean, is writing the third in English.