(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The title of The Martyred refers to twelve North Korean Christian ministers who are shot to death by Korean Communists early in the first year of the Korean War. Intelligence officers of the South Korean forces seek to establish, for propaganda purposes, that the ministers died as true martyrs in defiance of their captors’ attempts to win their allegiance to Communism. The narrative develops two movements in counterpoint; one is physical and historical, the other psychological and spiritual.

The historical movement is the first year of the Korean War. The North Korean Communist regime had sought to bring all of Korea into the Communist sphere. South Korea resisted the military and political takeover, and its capital, Seoul, was captured. The South Korean and United Nations troops drove the invaders back and captured the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, which is the scene of most of the action in The Martyred. A dreary and dispiriting winter of occupation is followed by the evacuation of Pyongyang and a retreat before the new advance of Communist forces.

As the physical situation of territorial command deteriorates, the spiritual situation of faith versus unbelief simultaneously moves toward resolution. The focus of the spiritual matter is the Communists’ execution of twelve Christian ministers and their sparing of the lives of two others. Captain Lee, the narrator of the story, is assigned by Colonel Chang to interrogate the survivors, Mr. Shin and Mr. Hann, to ascertain that the twelve died as true martyrs, presumably betrayed by Shin and Hann.

The question of faith and unbelief arises from the uncertainty about the manner of the ministers’ deaths. Captain Lee has learned that one of the ministers was the...

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(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Freund, John B. “Martyrs, Pilgrims, and the Memory of Camus.” The Minnesota Review 4 (Spring, 1964): 483-485. Freund compares The Martyred to two other works published in 1964, translations of a novel by Lagerkvist and a play by Rolf Hochhuth. The Martyred is rated well below the other works and is described as an inelegant imitation of Albert Camus.

Galloway, David D. “The Love Stance: Richard E. Kim’s The Martyred.” Critique 24 (Winter, 1964-1965): 163-171. An essay on the Camusian concept of the absurd is followed by a critical estimate of The Martyred as creatively evocative of Albert Camus’s fiction. Galloway is perceptive in pointing out the title as initially referent to those considered to have been martyred and finally referent to the only true martyr, Mr. Shin.

Kim, Richard. Lost Names: Scenes from a Korean Boyhood. New York: Praeger, 1970. Recalling that the Japanese invaders forced Koreans to abandon their own names when the Japanese occupied the country from 1932 to 1945, Kim paints seven vivid scenes from his boyhood. Although this book does not deal with Kim’s fiction, it does provide interesting insight into his background and the reasons behind the drawing of certain themes.

Valdés, Mario J. “Faith and Despair: A Comparative Study of a Narrative Theme.” Hispania 49 (September, 1966): 373-379. Valdés likens the theme and narrative structure of The Martyred to Unamuno’s San Manuel Bueno, mártir (1933; Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr, 1956). His observations of the similarities of Kim’s story to Unamuno’s intensify a reader’s appreciation of both.

Walsh, Chad. “Another War Raged Within.” The New York Times Book Review (February 16, 1964): 1, 35. Walsh places The Martyred within “the great moral and psychological tradition of Job, Dostoevsky and Albert Camus.”