Descent of the Mountain God

We are now just a few weeks from the official publication date of The Shaman of Turtle Valley, my debut novel (Braddock Avenue Books, May 14, 2019). I’m terribly excited about this, and about the fact that review copies and early release copies have begun making their way into the world, so it’s only a matter of time before I start hearing reactions from readers. (Note to self: Don’t read the reviews.)

I’ve given several interviews about the book and have a few more scheduled, but there’s one thing concerning the book’s origins I haven’t talked about much yet.

The Mountain God

There is a painting above my fireplace that I have had for over 40 years, a souvenir of the time I spent living in South Korea, one of the novel’s settings. The painting, shown at right, depicts Sansin (산신), the Mountain God, a guardian spirit thought to protect against evil spirits and misfortune. This is a common motif in Korean art: Sansin shown with a tiger and various other Korean symbols—the mountain stream, the pine tree, a fungus, a magpie. While my painting is mostly monotone, over the years I’ve found many colorful versions on the Internet, and I recently saw one in the Korean art collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I’ve included a gallery of just a few of those images below. But what do they have to do with my novel? Although my first working title for the book was “Birdhouse,” which is an important repeated image in the novel, for a long time its title was “Descent of the Mountain God.” I envisioned Lee Soon-hee, one of the book’s main characters and a developing shaman, summoning Sansin, even though she finds herself in Virginia, far from her mountain home in Korea. The epigram that opens the book is a poem by the poet Yi Ku-yong and mentions Sansin: “The mountain god descends like a meandering stream . . .”

The Shaman of Turtle Valley is still available for pre-order from Braddock Avenue Books.

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  1. Nice post, Cliff. Descent of the Mountain God would make a killer title, though I can think of reasons why you wouldn’t want to use it.
    I wish you all success with the book!

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