Westport author David L. Meth [Korea 1971–72] reads from his new novel, “A Hint of Light,” at the Westport CT Public Library.
Written by Nancy Burton for Patch.com
When Westport writer David L. Meth was a Peace Corps volunteer in the early 1970s in Seoul, Korea, he “walked the streets” to pick up the cultural vibes.
Now he has self published his first novel based on real characters who have haunted his psyche ever since.
Meth gave a reading from his book, A Hint of Light, at the Westport Public Library on Monday, sharing passages of prose of sometimes exquisite piquancy.
The main character is a street urchin named Byung-suk, who is 9 years old when the book opens.
Byung-suk is the product of a tryst involving a Korean prostitute and a black American soldier stationed in Seoul. Byung-suk’s mother died in an alleyway during childbirth and he grows up a child of the streets, abandoned by an unknown father and despised by Koreans as a living stain on their racial purity.
Meth describes the curse in the following passage:
“He flaunted the worst of their sexual and racial humiliations directly in front of them . . . like a rash that would not go away, he and others like him spread throughout Korean society fouling their national sense of purity.”
Byung-suk’s life is one of desperation as he has to steal rotting vegetables to eat and seek refuge in dingy unlit basements, living with the rats. His survival depends on “The Boss,” a sadistic character who gets his comeuppance in a scene of brutality, one of many in the book.
But Byung-sik has a will to survive the harrowing conditions.
“By the age of nine, he ran with the street: fast and lonely, his body caked with layers of an unnatural black that defied identification with anything human. He followed the years through Seoul’s inhospitable marketplaces like a shadow, always present, but just beyond the hint of light.”
“Byung-suk moved with the wind, a small gust caught in the doorways of the night. He was a breeze beneath the cover of a vegetable stand, a vision out of the corner of an eye, always in chase, always in flight.”
He finds himself in Seoul’s red-light district where U.S. military are drawn to the bars, clubs and sex. Byung-suk becomes a pimp wise to the ways of depravity; the vocation is useful as he develops his language skills.
Eventually he finds a soulmate, Miya, a girl with a gimpy leg, who’s also the product of a Korean and African-American union and who does not speak.
Over time, the pair finds work in ever more hospitable environments and Miya emerges from her self-imposed cocoon of silence. Each becomes fluent in Korean, Japanese and English, the last being their ticket to the promised land, America.
Meth, who is also an award-winning playwright, taught English at a prestigious university in Seoul when he was in the Peace Corps. His term coincided with the imposition of martial order and the closing of schools and universities by the government. Freed of teaching responsibilities, he immersed himself in the culture.
He returned to devote several years to researching the lives of street children of mixed race and conducted hundreds of hours of taped interviews.
To order Hint of Light from Amazon, click on the book cover or the bold book title — and Peace Corps Worldwide, an Amazon Associate, will receive a small remittance that helps support our awards.