Lady Bora from Diamond Mountain

Although Daisy Lee Yang, also known as Jung Jin Lee, has not done much work in translation in the past, she wrote her first novel, Lady Bora from Diamond Mountain, which is based around a superhero whom young people can look up to. Set in the Choson Dynasty, the story tells how a super heroine overcomes her misfortune to come to the aid of her country in its time of need. Endowed with supernatural powers, Lady Bora can fly, change her appearance, see events taking place in the future, and use other magical, powers.

Daisy Lee Yang, former professor at Seoul’s Korea University and wife of Yang Sung-chul, a former lawmaker who served as the South Korean ambassador to the United States from 2000 to 2003, met up with the Asia Society Korea Center in a coffee shop in Seoul to discuss the book.

 

You have lived a large part of your life exposed to Western culture and literature, what made you want to write about a Korean historical superhero?

Yes, it’s true. I’m more familiar with Western culture and literature having grown up in Hawaii and lived for many years in America. When I returned to Korea in 1988, I taught at several universities. I often asked students in class who their heroes were. They mentioned King Sejong, Yi Sun-sin, Shin Saimdang, Kim Gu, Hwang Jini, An Jung-geun, Nongae, Heo Nanseolheon, and other historical figures. When I asked for the names of fictional heroes, they said Chunhyang, Hong Gildong, Jeon Woo-chi, Shim Chung, Mong Ryong and a few others. I found that they didn’t have many fictional super heroes or heroines to identify with like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, Super Girl, Incredible Hulk, Green Lantern, and many others with whom I grew up. So, I’ve decided to create a super heroine for Korean young people. It has taken me over 20 years to do it. During the process, I’ve read a lot of wonderful Korean and Chinese classics to discover my cultural roots.

Who was the inspiration behind the character, Lady Bora?

She was a character in a popular 17th century Choson Dynasty novel. The original story is only about 50-60 pages long. Since the novel is by an anonymous author, I could put my imagination to work in creating a super heroine. I wove stories of my own to write a very interesting and entertaining novel.

The book has many prominent characters. Were there particular characters that were especially fun for you to develop?

Yes. I really enjoyed creating the farmer’s virtuous wife. She epitomized the plight of Choson Dynasty women who often suffered from the unreasonable demands of men and corrupt officials, not to mention the backbreaking household chores they are saddled with. She rises above them by courageously testifying against a powerful and corrupt county magistrate and putting him behind bars. Not only is she brave, but she is also a super mom who educates her son to pass a highly competitive civil service exam at the local level. She is a lowly peasant version of Lady Bora.

What were some of the challenges you had to overcome in the developing and writing of the book?

Two challenges stand out. One was how to reconcile the discrepancies between the historical facts, figures and places with those of my own fictional creation. To solve it, I’ve changed the names of some people, places and events. To establish the historical context of the story, I kept the names of a few Korean kings and Manchu emperors. Another dealt with the names of the numerous characters in the story. Perhaps many Korean names make the reading difficult for Western readers, but I decided to give them all names because women, for example, back then did not have a given name. For the most part, a married aristocratic woman was known as someone’s wife, her son’s mother, or a lady from the region of her family origin, like Lady Bora from Diamond Mountain. So, in the story, when the heroine receives a given name, Bora, from the queen, she treasures it as the most precious gift.

If you had to sum up the book in 2-3 sentences, how would you describe it?

The book, in short, conveys some valuable messages to its readers; one must not judge a thing by its appearance; even heaven can be moved, if one tries one’s hardest; and a woman can be as loyal, brave, smart, and faithful as a man, if she is given an equal opportunity. Sometimes, woman can do a better job like Lady Bora who accomplishes what no man has been able to do: help the king to end the Manchu invasion, one of the most humiliating incidents in all of Korea’s history.

Can you think of a better way to learn Korean history, culture and tradition than from reading an entertaining book where the heroine uses her super powers to make the mighty Manchu general kowtow from the top of a cloud?

Wouldn't you like to know about the traditional Korean marriage customs, civil service exam, children’s birthday celebration, funeral rites, Confucian, Buddhist and Taoist precepts from an amusing book? You can find them all in Lady Bora from Diamond Mountain, published by Amazon.com.’s e-book in Createspace platform.

You mention how you are a grandmother writing a historical fantasy. Have your grandchildren read the book and what was their feedback? 

I want to tell you what my eight-year-old grandson, Tyler Affolter, told me when he came to visit us last summer. I had just received my copy for proofing. After reading the short synopsis and the first chapter, he said, “Grandmother, this book is pretty good!” You can imagine how happy that made me from my grandson who had already finished reading all the Harry Potter books, one of my favorites too!

Do you have any plans to write more novels in the future, maybe a sequel to ‘Lady Bora’? 

Yes, I do. I plan to write a sequel to ‘Lady Bora.’ Now that I’ve created a super heroine, don’t you think I need to put her power to work? She will use her super powers to help the poor and the weak, so corrupt officials watch out! Here comes Lady Bora!