As I plow on with an insane project I’ve assigned myself (creating a year-by-year chronology of Russian prose literature), I’m discovering all sorts of writers I didn’t know anything about, and I just came across this interesting story in a 1999 piece by Peter Rollberg:
Anatoly Kim lost [his cohesion with a location] twice, and both times years before he was born. For him it was a trauma (I called it the “prenatal author’s trauma” in one of my articles–as opposed to the actual personal or historical traumas such as Pak Wan-sô ‘s experience of the Korean war). As the offspring of the Korean minority on the Far Eastern island of Sakhalin–several hundred thousand people whose ancestors had once fled Japanese troops–Kim knew about Korea only from his family members. But in the fall of 1937, Stalin’s government decided to deprive this minority of their newly acquired homeland of fifty years. Supposedly because of a possible fraternization with Japanese military in the pending war, those hundreds of thousands of people were ordered to leave their homes on Sakhalin overnight; they were handed out coupons for the harvest that they had just gathered–those coupons later turned out to be invalid–and loaded on trains that took them to Kazakhstan, thousands of miles away. Those without college education were dropped off in the middle of the steppe where thousands died in the first rough winter. The more privileged ones–Kim’s parents among them–were given permission to settle in Kazakh towns.
Until the age of eight, Anatoly Kim spoke only Korean. Then he learned Russian and unlearned his native language forever. Studying painting and later literature in Moscow, Kim’s short-stories and novellas have as varied geographical backgrounds as his own life. In some narratives, Kim alluded to the Korean community on Sakhalin or in Kazakhstan, but he never told of the horrible events of 1937. And only when he was in his fifties–after the Soviet Union crumbled–could he visit Korea for the first time. This voyage, as well as his subsequent stay there for a number of years as a professor of Russian, proved a veritable revelation. For Anatoly Kim’s discovery of the real Korea was that same “voyage in search of a continent,” only that it was not an entirely new one. It was the continent of his roots.
(Via Far Outliers.)