When My Name was Keoko

by Linda Sue Park

I ocassionally read children’s book to take a break from more serious reading, but this book is much more than a diversion.  It is likely among my top ten of the year.

The story, partly based on the experience of the author’s grandparents and with historically accurate facts woven in, centers on a Korean girl, Sun-hee and her old brother, Tae-yul, who grew up in a Japanese-occupied Korea.  Like many war stories viewed through the eyes of children, the simple and sometimes innocent episodes they described is all the more powerful in suggesting a cruelty and hardship that goes beyond their understanding.

I knew very little about the lives of Korean under Japanese occupation, and this little book is an excellent introduction to that slice of history, and to Korean culture in general.  It was intriguing how Sun-hee learned to write kanji, got popcorn from the popcorn man,  and was taunted at school as a Japanese Lover for excelling in class.  As Sun-hee grew up learning only Japanese, she did not have a “before” picture to compare against.  It took her a while to “notice” the fact that her best friends were Japanese and daughter of a “traitor”.  The  increasing hardship of the war did not escape her though, from the food her mother served to the change in the color of the mountains as they were stripped of their resources. 

On the other hand, her older brother started with a better understanding of the reality.  Thus he could not play with the rubber ball the school distributed in celebration of Japanese occupation of Malaya, he cared not to stay in the classes to be brain-washed, and he wanted to help destroy the enemy.   Inside Tae-yul, there was the conflict of a teenaged boy fascinated with airplanes, yet keenly influenced by his uncle to resist the enemy; burdened by the tradition to respect his parents, yet despising his father for allowing the soldiers to take his bicycle without a fight.

This is one excellent fiction of WW2.


Published in: on August 27, 2007 at 2:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

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