Shattered by the Wars: But Sustained by Love
by Hi-Dong Chai
Inspiring Voices

"Some people are born to be apple trees and some to be willow trees... Hi-Dong, you are going to be a big, big oak tree."

Be prepared to shed a tear as Hi-Dong Chai leads readers from his nurtured childhood to his family's devastating downfall at the hands of two different wars and control-hungry rulers. Shattered by the Wars is a comprehensive portrayal of Chai's life. Many of the moments are sharp and vivid to the point that audiences will feel they are peering down the lens of a professional camera and are right there with Chai on his journey.

Chai's childhood in Korea is marked by his special bond with his brother Hi-Seung, who labeled Chai "tarzan of the human jungle," and his precious dog, Kwidong. At the forefront was his innocence as he once lost sleep over the fate of a frog, which had jumped into the meal his mother was cooking and he had tossed out the window. Though his family was not wealthy, he was the son of a minister and his mother had such a strong belief in Jesus Christ that they never felt their lives were lacking. The arrival of the Japanese in Korea changed the whole complexion of Chai's life, and he spent the rest of his childhood and adult life picking up the pieces.

Simply put, the Japanese ordered everyone to change his or her religion and God and bow to the Japanese emperor. In a nation of predominantly Koreans, the Japanese demanded, "No Korean alphabet will be spoken in schools and public places.” What ensues is a series of heroic sacrifices by literally every family member, from the minister and the mother all the way down to Hi-Seung and Kwidong the pet. When one tyrant left, another entered: The Japanese domination gave way to the Korean War. Chai's family had only begun to repair itself when the Korean War thrust them into mayhem once again. The atrocities faced and the sacrifices made by Chai's family should only be made for Hollywood—no man in reality should have to undergo such trying circumstances.

The most astounding aspect of this narrative is Chai's resolve. Despite all the bad, he shared his mother's determination and believed that life would get better. Although a memoir, Shattered by the Wars is filled with numerous universal themes that heighten this book on a philosophical level. For example, a fifteen-year-old Chai often questioned God's reasoning for relentlessly testing and punishing those who believe while the less faithful, like his Little Aunt, are unscathed. Consider the notion that simply bowing down to Japan's emperor would have relieved this family's problems. Nevertheless, they stayed resolute in their faith.

This book is about Chai and the trials and tribulations that occurred as a result of war. More than that, this is a story about a mother's love for her children, her family, and her God. Chai's mother would give away the last morsel of rice to a complete stranger even if she hadn't eaten all day. She was that type of woman. Her character encompasses the theme of honor, dignity, and tradition in Asian cultures. For example, she waited thirty days to even see her husband's face after their marriage. It was a different time, but the purity of her intentions and faith are undeniable. For those who believe that life is more important than one's honor and faith and that intolerance is extinct, examine the current case of a Sudanese woman who is sentenced to death because she will not change her religion from Christianity to Islam.

Ultimately, this story is not about technique, style, or even plot. It is the genuine expression of the human spirit—a man’s desire to dig into the most painful parts of his essence—and pull out a narrative that is both heart wrenching and mesmerizing.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Return to USR Home