Friday, August 5, 2011
Book Review of When my name was Keoko by Linda Sue Park
Author Name: Linda Sue Park
Publisher: Clarion Books New York
Type of book: Young adult to Adult, Japanese occupation of Korea, World War 2, Korea 1940-1946
Year it was published: 2002
For Kim Sun-hee's whole life, Korea has belonged to Japan. Sun-hee and her older brother, Tae-yul, have grown up studying Japanese and speaking it at school. THeir own language, Korean, can be spoken only at home, and some Korean things-like the flag-are not to be spoken of at all. When teh Emperor of Japan decrees that all Koreans must take Japanese names, Sun-hee and Tae-yul become Keoko and Nobuo. It is just one more step in a familiar process, but somehow it changes everything. THen World War II comes to Korea. No battles are fought on Korean soil, yet soldiers are everywhere. At school, teh students have war preparation duties instead of classes. But makng Koreans take Japanese names has not turned them into loyal subjects, ready to fight for Japan. WHen Tae-yul sees a chance to help his beloved uncle, whom the Japanese suspect of aiding the Korean resistance, he leaves home. Sun-hee stays behind, entrusted with the life-and-death secrets of a family at war. When My name was Keoko is a World War II novel with a difference: two parallel stories seamleslsy interwoven into a taut, compelling narrative that illuminates the wartime experience in occupied Korea.
While I liked the fact that this was written from the brother's and sister's point of view, I think that the brother's voice was somewhat weaker than the sister's voice. That is, the brother did get spotlight, but the voice wasn't as developed as I had wanted it to be. But I'm glad that the voices stay a bit consistent. The personalities themselves manage to change, Keoko's more visibly than Nobuo's. I kind of wish that Ms. Park could have written a sequel to this book about the family during Korean War and so on. But I'm grateful that she even bothered to write the novel at all.
The theme is of trying to understand the meaning of culture among the forced culture. Why and how birth culture should matter, and to also resist the encroachment of the dominant culture.
The stories are in first place narrative, and the chapters are named after the brother and sister in Korean names. The voices sound very young actually, and in some instances the characters are a bit more American than Korean ones. (I'm not sure if real Koreans would have acted out the way the characters acted out in certain circumstances.)
Linda Sue Park is the acclaimed author of A Single Shard, which was awarded the Newbery Medal; Seesaw Girl; and The Kite Fighters. The daughter of Korean immigrants, Linda Sue was born and raised in Illinois and has been writing poems and stories all her life. Her first published work was a poem in a children's magazine when she was nine. Today, she lives with her husband and their two children in western New York. You can visit her website at www.lindasuepark.com.
I first heard of the hatred between Japan and Korea was when I was reading Takaki's book Strangers from the different Shores. A Korean-American friend confirmed that hatred as well. Later on I dated a Korean guy who gave me more details about the hatred. A year or so ago, I began watching a Korean drama, Eyes of Dawn about Japanese occupation of Korea. Although the drama was very good, the images and information was best described as sickening. I wanted to find things out more in detail, and by luck I saw this book which helped me find out about the life under Japanese occupation. I enjoyed the way the information was provided and the way characters were drawn.
4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)