A Korean Chronicle
by Josephine deBois

"We have all heard what’s going on out there: brutality, oppression, and cruelty. It’s wrong. We went through the horrors of two wars... and we still feel them."

This epic-like drama intricately spans fifteen years and eleven TV-like episodes. Readers follow Phillipe Farber, an anthropologist, as he researches the lives of traditional Korean families and individuals. Meanwhile, Phillipe also finds himself immersed in wars that have long-lasting consequences, not only for Korea and the Korean families involved but also for Phillipe. Readers are transported into Korea's majestic and ethereal landscapes where "tongues of fog envelop and caress the hills, like gentle eiderdown quilts lying over the awakening landscape." They also find themselves navigating Korean families' everyday existences and the circumstances that shape, stitch, and tear apart relationships in the most tumultuous of times.

What one immediately notices about the book is its structure. Written less like a novel and more like a play or screenplay, the book takes on a cinematic feel. Thus, as the reader progresses from episode to episode, it almost feels as if one is watching a film, play, or dramatic performance rather than simply reading a book. Because of this structure, the book becomes a more visual work. It also includes large excerpts of stage directions and spectacles that not only make the characters seem real but also provide insightful, detailed, and even philosophical narratives that "guide" readers. These narratives allow readers to access each member of the book's assorted cast easily.

Phillipe's struggle is real, and readers will find themselves empathizing with him, especially as he justifies his interest in Korea to others. Albert Asher, an anthropology professor, confides in him, "I'm being asked, Phillipe, why on earth does it have to be Korea?" Phillipe argues that the situation in Korea is "unique" because of "The wars, the breaking down of traditions, values." Despite the book's historical setting, Phillipe and Albert's conversation rings true in contemporary times, especially as countries like the United States face ongoing, often controversial, engagements with North Korea. War, of course, is at the heart of the text. War's cultural and geographic ravages are pertinent to the book. Many readers may find themselves returning to their history lessons about the Korean War, which had dire consequences for South Korea in years to come due to the country's lack of industrialization. Nonetheless, because of its careful, almost clinical focus on people, the text reminds readers of the power of disconnection: if one is not directly involved with or affected by something, then one is often numb to the circumstances.

For those interested in Asian history, and particularly that of Korea, this book is a well-researched guide to an often forgotten part of the not-so-distant past. Its focus on people, culture, and even language will remind readers of memoirs such as E.J. Koh's The Magical Language of Others in its appeal to contemporary audiences. Its portrayal of a war-torn nation also bears similarity to novels such as Paul Yoon's Run Me to Earth. Readers who enjoy plays, screenplays, and dramas will enjoy this work, particularly because of its episodic structure that intricately weaves the personal, the historical, and the universal together to form a unique look into the past.

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