Monday, May 28, 2012

{Monday Morning Therapy with Dongsaeng} When My Name was Keoko

I felt like a change of pace for today's MMT.  We've covered dramas and music and even some scenery and food here on TCA.  But never literature.  That means it's time for a book review!

I think that one of the reasons I enjoy dramas so much is because they're pretty much like a novel brought to life, and I absolutely love reading.  If you think about it, novels and dramas about the same length as far as hours spent reading/watching.  The character and plot development is very similar in its completeness and complexity.  I think that dramas are as close to books that you're going to ever find in the world of audio/visual entertainment.

For some time now, I have been in search of books based in/about Korea.  It's been a bit of a struggle to find them, so since I have finally found some, I thought that I'd share what I've found and read with you just in case you, like me, would like to know what options are out there if and when we decide to expand our addiKtion from pop culture to literature.

The book I just finished was called When My Name was Keoko by Linda Sue Park.  I found it through my local library actually as an ebook.  Say what you will about ebooks vs paper books.  I love both for different reasons.  My favorite thing about an ebook is that I can read it at night in my bed.  The Husband goes to bed earlier than me and can't sleep with any kind of light.  This rules out a reading light.  Most nights I found myself out on the couch if I wanted to read a bit before turning in for the night.  This led to most nights being spent sleeping on said couch as I would inevitably fall asleep while reading.  I would then wake sometime in the middle of the night and trudge back to bed, only to often find myself face to face with insomnia due to my unnatural sleep pattern.  I'm tired of sleeping on the couch - my bed is a lot more comfortable.  I'm tired of mid-night wakings and insomnia.  Having a book on my iDevice is wonderful.  I will never give up paper books entirely, but for me the ebooks just make more logistical sense.

And now that I've managed to ramble on and on about things other than the book I'm reviewing, let me steer myself back on course.

This is my second "Korean" book.  The first was Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi.  Both books are similar in their subject material, namely they deal with life in Korea during the Japanese occupation and subsequent World War II and are written from the perspective of a child.  This one is narrated by a brother and his younger sister, Tae-yul and Sun-hee, each one taking alternating chapters.  Korea is under control of Japan and has been for many years.  The narrators, being just children at the time, are starting to come to a gradual understanding of what this means.  They are starting to discover their lost Korean culture.

I don't want to give anything away, so I'll stay away from discussing too much of the plot, but I want to point out that the title of the book comes from the time when every Korean in Korea was forced to take Japanese names and abandon their Korean ones.  So many "Korean" identities and cultural icons were taken.  It only stands to reason that eventually the people would say "enough is enough" and want these cultural identifiers returned to them.

This is a period in time that I am unfamiliar with and therefore really enjoyed reading about.  Growing up here in the States, we obviously know about the war from our perspective, but are often unfamiliar with what was happening in the rest of the world, before, during, and after the war.

When My Name was Keoko is a wonderful telling of a child's perspective on this world in this time period.  If you enjoy historical fiction, or just want to learn more about life in Korea during the Japanese occupation, I would recommend this book.  It is juvenile fiction so it's going to be a little easier of a read and not go into all the gory details or great depth, so if you want more facts and details, be prepared to not find them here.  The innocence of the narrators and the gradual dawning of understanding is fascinating, however, and still well worth a read.

What "Korean" books have you read?  I'm always up for suggestions as it can be rather difficult to find them.  It's not a genre often found in the ol' card catalog.  (Yes, I am dating myself here - most of you probably don't even know what a card catalog is.  My daughter gave me a funny look today when we were at the library and I was telling her that the long line of numbers on a non-fiction book she was looking for was the "call number".  Oh Dewey Decimal System - you have certainly met your demise.  I don't know whether to wax nostalgic or cheer because it was always kind of confusing and annoying as all get out to memorize back in school).  Someday I'd love to read one that doesn't take place during WWII era.  Not that I have a problem with that, I just want some variety, but so far, the ones that I have found all deal with either WWII/Japanese occupation or the Korean War.  Korea has a very long and interesting history - certainly there are more books out there that deal with different themes and time periods and I am determined to find them.

P.S.  Okay!  I've started another one!  This one is called The Calligrapher's Daughter by Eugenia Kim.  Like When My Name Was Keoko, it also deals with the time period of the Japanese occupation of Korea, only this one occurs in the earlier years of the occupation as opposed to the later years.  I just barely started it, so I don't have much to say on it yet, but once I finish it I'll share with you my thoughts.

Here is the synopsis that is available on
A sweeping debut novel, inspired by the life of the author’s mother, about a young woman who dares to fight for a brighter future in occupied Korea.  In early-twentieth-century Korea, Najin Han, the privileged daughter of a calligrapher, longs to choose her own destiny. Smart and headstrong, she is encouraged by her mother—but her stern father is determined to maintain tradition, especially as the Japanese steadily gain control of his beloved country. When he seeks to marry Najin into an aristocratic family, her mother defies generations of obedient wives and instead sends her to serve in the king’s court as a companion to a young princess. But the king is soon assassinated, and the centuries-old dynastic culture comes to its end.In the shadow of the dying monarchy, Najin begins a journey through increasing oppression that will forever change her world. As she desperately seeks to continue her education, will the unexpected love she finds along the way be enough to sustain her through the violence and subjugation her country continues to face? Spanning thirty years, The Calligrapher’s Daughter is a richly drawn novel in the tradition of Lisa See and Amy Tan about a country torn between ancient customs and modern possibilities, a family ultimately united by love, and a woman who never gives up her search for freedom

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