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“Scoundrels” by Gim Yu-jeong


ⓒ Getty Images Bank

After making their escape, Eung-chil’s family lived by begging on the streets. When even that became difficult, they went their separate ways to find a way to somehow survive. 

Having nowhere to put down his roots, Eung-chil ended up as a career criminal who had been convicted four times for theft and gambling. Having no family, no home and no land, Eung-chil drifted into the village where his younger brother, Eung-oh, lived. 

They were glad to see each other, being the only family left, but Eung-oh’s situation wasn’t any better than the older brother’s.

응오는 진실한 농군이었다.

나이 서른하나로 무던히 철났다하고 동리에서 쳐주는 모범 청년이었다.

그런데 벼를 베지 않는 것이다.

지주든 혹은 그에게 장리를 놓은 김참판이든 뻔질 찾아와 벼를 베라 독촉하였다.

Eung-oh was an honest farmer. At age thirty-one, he was considered by other villagers as an exemplary young man. But the problem was that he didn’t harvest the rice plants. The landowner or Official Kim who lent him money on a long-term interest often urged him to reap the rice.

“계집이 죽게 됐는데 벼는 다 뭐지유” 

“What good is the rice when my wife is about to die?” 

응오의 아내가 지금 사정이매 틈은 없었다 하더라도 

돈이 놀아서 약을 못 쓰는 이판이니 벼라도 털어야 할 것이다.

그러면 왜 안 털었던가....

Eung-oh’s wife was ill and he couldn’t buy her medicine because he couldn’t afford it, which was all the more reason he should have harvested the rice. But why didn’t he?

한 해 동안 알뜰히 가꾸던

그 벼를 걷어 들임은 기쁨에 틀림없었다.

그러나 지주에게 도지를 제하고, 장리쌀을 제하고, 색초를 제하고 보니

남는 것은 등줄기를 흐르는 식은땀이 있을 따름.

그것은 슬프다 하기보다 끝없이 부끄러웠다.

같이 털어주던 동무들이 뻔히 보고 섰는데

빈 지게로 덜렁거리며 집으로 돌아오는 건 진정 열적기 짝이 없는 노릇이었다.

참다 참다 응오는 눈에 눈물이 흘렀던 것이다.

Anyone who had threshed the landowner’s crops with Eung-oh last year wouldn’t have asked that question. He would have been happy to harvest the rice he tended lovingly for the entire year. But after giving the land fee to the landowner, paying the interest with rice, and settling the fertilizer payment, all he had left was the sweat on his back. He was ashamed rather than sad. It was really humiliating for him to go home with an empty cart rattling while his friends who had farmed with him watched him go emptyhanded. He held back the tears until he couldn’t any longer.

# Interview with literary critic Jeon So-yeong

Farmers couldn’t find any hope in farming within the harsh relationship between tenant farmers and landowners under the Japanese colonial regime. Sometimes farmers sought a big fortune by indulging in illegal gambling. In that sense, both Eung-chil and Eung-oh are manmubangs만무방, scoundrels. Not only those brothers, but all Korean farmers at the time were considered manmubangs who lived from day to day with no hope for the future.

대뜸 몽둥이는 들어가 그 볼기짝을 후려갈겼다.

Eung-chil struck Eung-oh’s buttocks with the club.

아우는 모로 몸을 꺾더니 시나브로 찌그러진다.

뒤미처 앞 정강이를 때렸다.

등을 팼다.

일어나지 못할 만큼 매는 내렸다.

체면을 불구하고 땅에 엎드려 엉엉 울도록 매는 내렸다.

The younger brother crumpled to the ground, his body folded. Eung-chil beat him on the knee and then on the back. He beat Eung-oh badly enough to keep him down. He beat Eung-oh until he laid prone on the ground, crying.

홧김에 하긴 했으되 그 팔을 보니 또한 마음이 편할 수 없다.

He struck his own brother out of anger but seeing his bruised arms, he came to feel uneasy.

침을 퉤, 뱉어 던지곤 팔자 드센 놈이 그저 그러지 별수 있냐.

쓰러진 아우를 일으켜 등에 업고 일어섰다.

언제나 철이 날는지 딱한 일이다.

속 썩는 한숨을 후- 하고 내뿜는다.

그리고 어청어청 고개를 묵묵히 내려온다.

“This is what an unlucky man gets in life,” Eung-chil spat on the ground.

He picked up Eung-oh and carried him on his back. 

“When will he grow up?” Eung-chil thought as he heaved a big, worried sigh. Then he sauntered down the hill in silence.

Gim Yu-jeong (Born in Chuncheon, Gangwon-do Prov., Jan. 11, 1908~Jan. 29, 1937)

Debuted with short story “Rain Shower” in 1933

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