KATRINA CROSBY WRITES – On Tuesday, September 5, 2017, novelist Ma Kwang-soo was found in the depths of his apartment in Seoul, South Korea hanging from his window pane with a scarf around his neck. Police ruled suicide as the cause of the 66-year-old’s death.
Ma was a poet and literature professor at Yonsei University. He began by producing poems in 1977, but received most of his recognition in 1991, when his scandalous book, “Happy Sara,” was released.
His novel focuses on Sara, a college student, who unashamedly embraces her sexuality, landing herself in situations including an affair with a married man and numerous one-night stands. Sara’s character symbolizes sexual freedom at a time where society considered such topics taboo.
Ma’s book was banned for “depraving and corrupting” the youth, and he was fired from the university he taught at. In the following months, Ma even found himself in the Seoul Central District Courthouse facing eight years of jail time. When time passed and he was free, Ma felt ostracized by his fellow colleagues in the academia, as he states, “simply because I wrote about sex.”
Regardless of the President pardoning him in 1998, Ma felt unsettled and disenchanted within society. In his most recent poem, titled “Sara’s Courtroom,” Ma writes: “The way I look makes me sad. My hands are tied with rope because I wrote a novel. I go through this ridiculous suffering just because I was born in this hopeless country.” Ma suffered from extreme depression in his final months.
With his death in the news, Ma’s erotic book resurfaced into the limelight. “Happy Sara” has been flying off of shelves throughout the country. Although the novel is still banned in South Korea, the desire to find it at second-hand stores is continuing. Around 1,500 books have been sold this past week, according to companies such as Kyobo and Aladin. Even in death, Ma continues to impact those surrounding him.