Thursday, May 29, 2014

G353 Book Review of Blossoms and Bayonets by Jana McBurney-Lin and Hi-Dong Chai

Name of Book: Blossoms and Bayonets

Author: Hi-Dong Chai, Jana McBurney-Lin

ISBN: 978-0-9884940-1-5

Publisher: Redwood publishing

Type of book: Japanese Occupation, WWII, 1942-1945, brotherhood, being tough, science, identity, loyalty, faith, mistreatment, Korea, food, everyday life

Year it was published: 2012


Hi-Dong Chai and Jana McBurney-Lin, the award-winning author of My Half of the Sky, turn their hands to a remarkable story of a family and country torn apart by outside forces. The time is 1942, the place, Japanese-occupied Seoul, Korea. Fifteen-year-old He-Seung is full of fire, ready to take on these Japanese...if only he could convince his father, a Christian minister more concerned about saving his flock in a time when Emperor-worship has become mandatory. Since occupation, the Japanese have eradicated the Korean language, names, even the country's flower. Now they are seeking Korean boys as volunteers for their army. When his father is arrested by the Japanese, however, He-Seung must swallow his hatred of the enemy and volunteer for the military. Even harder, he must leave his mother and baby brother He-Dong to fend for themselves. Based on a true story, Blossoms & Bayonets is suffused with the tense atmosphere of the period. The story lends an eyewitness perspective to events as they unfold. revealing an era of nuance and complexity. The result is a work that speaks volumes about the power of faith. "McBurney-Lin engaging and entertaining read from beginning to end." --Midwest Book Review "Impossible to put down-or to forget-authors' grippingly suspenseful and deeply affecting historical novel limns the lives of a Korean family under Japanese rule with astonishing grace and power." --Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You "Riveting internal dialogue and narration interspersed with quotes from those running the war efforts on various fronts combine to compel the reader forward. I say compel rather than propel, because I had to read. I had to know how this family and those around them would fare in the end."-Keri Rojas, bookseller at Cornerstone Cottage, Hampton, IA


The main characters include Baby He-Dong, the third son of a reverend. In beginning he is best described as fearful, intelligent, curious, and he wants to please everyone above and below. He does change throughout the book and I admired how he became more curious as well as wanting to be scientific. He-Seung is the middle brother who is best described as a firecracker and impatient. He is loyal to those he loves and enjoys playing sports such as soccer. He cares little for school and is very prejudiced against Japanese. The other character is Mother, otherwise known as Uhmony (Mother in Korean.) She is talented when it comes sewing, loyal to friends and doesn't really question her husband's decisions about anything. She seems to go along, but yet she does her best to hold up her family and in whatever situations she can. Secondary characters include He-Chul, the eldest brother from Manchuria (Manchukuo,) their father, various friends of the family as well as personal friends.


Appreciate the small things


The book is written in first person narrative from Baby He-Dong, He-Seung and their mother (Uhmony). I was impressed that while faith did play an important role in the book, somehow the author made sure that it wasn't being shoved down the reader's throat, and I felt safe somehow. The story is linear and is told from 1942 up until a little after 1945. Previously I read The Foreign Student by Susan Choi which covers Korean War, and somehow this book helped me understand the background for The Foreign Student. The characters all had distinctive voices as well as distinctive lives. The story also really pulled me in and at the same deepened my education of Korean culture and also gave credence to what my Korean ex has told me in the past. I also hope that a sequel will be written to Blossoms and Bayonets.

Author Information:
(From TLC)

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Jana McBurney-LinAbout Jana McBurney-Lin

I was born in Chicago, Illinois and spent over half my adult life in Asia (Japan/Singapore). While I had gone to Japan to learn the language and become an indispensable business woman, I discovered I was more interested in sharing stories about this new culture. I wrote and edited fictional stories as well as non-fiction articles for magazines/journals/newspapers in seven countries.  I also met my husband, a native of southern China. During one of our trips home to his village I ran up against another compelling story, this time one that deserved more space than an article would offer.
Chairman Mao said, “Women hold up half the sky.”  My Half of the Sky (KOMENAR, 2006) is the story of a contemporary young woman who is trying to be modern–to hold up her half of the sky–but the traditions of her village keep pulling her back. While the narrative takes place in China and Singapore, the theme is one which resonates with audiences everywhere. How do we reconcile traditions with the modern momentum of our society?
My Half of the Sky was a finalist for the Benjamin Franklin Award for Popular Fiction, receiving Notable Mention in Eric Hoffer’s Best New Fiction Awards and Honorable Mention for ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the year. The title was chosen as a Forbes Book Club Pick and an ABA BookSense Pick of the Month.
While signing books at a writers’ conference, a Korean engineer approached me saying, “Your book reminds me of old Korea. Will you help me tell my story?” Hi-Dong Chai grew up in Seoul during WWII, as the son of one of the first Christian ministers in the country. This was a double-edged sword. Their family was always under persecution, but at the same time they had faith in the new day.
Blossoms and Bayonets (Redwood Publishing, 2013) is based on the true story of co-author Hi-Dong Chai, and is filled with the tense atmosphere of the 40’s. The story lends an eyewitness perspective to WWII in the Pacific. It currently is pending an award from the National Historical Society. Said former Korean resident and author, Clifford Garstang, “It’s a harrowing tale and one definitely worth reading.”
I live with my husband and our four children in the Santa Cruz mountains of Northern California.

I'm not Korean, but I probably have more knowledge when it comes to Korea. I got into Korean culture long before Psy phenomenon and discovered the beautiful songs, cuisine, language and history through Korean dramas, Korean music and yes, two Korean men that I dated. One man educated me and explained to me about why Koreans and Japanese disliked one another, and thanks to him, I was inspired to watch two classical Korean dramas, Eyes of Dawn and Sandglass. I really enjoy learning and reading about Korea and am very giddy when I discover a book about Korea. Coming from that background, some things about the Korean history during Japanese Occupation weren't surprising, while others, I was shocked and flabbergasted. The book also helped me understand why christianity became so popular in South Korea after World War II. I was also shocked at what Russia has done to North Korea and am tempted to ask someone about the truth. I really would highly recommend for this novel to be read, to at least give more light to what Japan has done and how its colonies were treated, as well as teach other people about the strength of faith and ordinary day.

This is for TLC Book Tour

Jana’s Tour Stops

Monday, May 12th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Wednesday, May 14th: Priscilla and Her Books
Monday, May 19th: The Written World
Thursday, May 22nd: Open Book Society
Tuesday, May 27th: The many thoughts of a reader
Thursday, May 29th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Wednesday, June 4th: WildmooBooks
5 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.)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi Svetlana,
    I'm thrilled that you enjoyed Blossoms and Bayonets and appreciate your wonderful review. You're an author's dream reader.
    To be honest, I also knew very little about Korea. I remember a sentence or two from the history books--but that was on the Korean war. I had toured there when I was living in Japan (and had noted that the elder generation spoke Japanese.) But I didn't realize the extent of the relationship until I heard Dr. Chai's story and began researching on my own. The more I learned, the more I knew that this story had to be told.
    Thanks again for higlighting Blossoms and Bayonets on your blog. Thanks for spreading the word.
    P.S. A sequel is coming covering the Korean War.

  3. Wow, sounds like this is a not-to-be-missed read. Thanks for being on the tour!

  4. Hey Jana,
    Thanks for commenting as well as your compliments :) I really did enjoy it a great deal :) I am also open to reading and reviewing the sequel whenever it comes out by the way :D


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