Sunday, August 19, 2012

Kim Kum-sun: Who was she?

Many readers will recognize the name Claude Lanzmann -- French Resistance fighter, secular Jewish intellectual, heir to Sartre's existentialist legacy, leftist supporter of Israel, and director of the documentary masterpiece Shoah, a ten-hour film on the holocaust -- but who would have expected this man who has had so many lovers to reveal in his memoir that he has truly loved only one, a North Korean woman named Kim Kum-sun, with whom he never consummated his desire!

Maybe that's why his love for her has remained so true.

Though I've not read the memoir, he has apparently devoted an inordinate number of pages on his devotion to this North Korean nurse who treated him during his bout with exhaustion, for several reviewers marvel over the extended anecdote about his trip in 1958 to North Korea, and one poet, Catharine Savage Brosman, has even written a poem retelling the story, as this excerpt shows:
. . . Kim Kum-sun arrived,
accompanied by half-a-dozen men
in uniform. No words could be exchanged,
since neither knew the other's tongue; she kept
her eyes averted. The next day, she came
again, surrounded. By some ruse, perhaps,

at last she came alone -- rouge lips, blue lids,
in Western dress, with "comrade's braids" undone,
her hair cascading down. A sentinel
was posted, mute, but did not interfere.
With passion, Claude and Kim embraced.
Not having read the memoirs, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of Brosman's account, for she places the initial meeting in a hotel, though reviewers speak of a hospital. I like the poetic license, however, if that's what it is, and you can read the entirety of the poem, "Kim Kum-sun," in the literary journal Town Creek Poetry (Volume V, Issue 1, 2011). Perhaps Brosman's poem is more accurate, for she's an expert on French language and literature and read Lanzmann's memoir in the original French: Le Lièvre de Patagonie (2009).

More prosaic accounts are available here and here, but they are based on the English translation. Intriguingly, one of the book's best reviewers, Paul Berman, does not mention the incident.

A crucial question yet remains: Who was Kim Kum-sun?

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At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know Professor Jeff, this post had me reeling in the dreams of remembrances of things past?

Early 80s, Navy ships dock in South Korean waters - sailors disembark. Bar bands belting popular strands mostly yelling in somewhat comprehensible Engrish. San Miguel and kimchee wafting freely.

Then a ballad, Beatles usually:

♪♫♪♪♫ Who was Kim Kum-sun ♫♪♪♫♪


At 9:57 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Glad to have stirred some pleasant memories of times past . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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