Saturday, November 13, 2010

Book Review: When My Name Was Keoko

"If a war lasts long enough, is it possible that people would completely forget the idea of beauty? That they'd only be able to do what they needed to survive and would no longer remember how to make and enjoy beautiful things?"

When My Name Was Keoko is a young adult novel by Linda Sue Park about a Korean family in Japanese-occupied Korea during World War II, told in the alternating voices of 10-year-old Sun-hee and 13-year-old Tae-yul. Korea has long been under Japanese rule when this novel begins, but a new order from the fascist regime seeks to strip them of their last bit of Korean identity: all Koreans must take new Japanese names. Already the people have been forced to give up their cultural symbols, language, and traditions. Sun-hee becomes Keoko and Tae-yul becomes Nobuo, but they remain fiercely Korean in their hearts.

What the siblings suspect and soon realize with both happiness and anxiety is that their beloved Uncle is a leader in the resistance movement. Although they are frightened of the repercussions, Sun-hee and Tae-yul do what they can do help Uncle and eventually Tae-yul risks his life for Korea.

This was a beautiful book. I had trouble sometimes with the alternating voices of Sun-hee and Tae-yul, but that was my own lack of concentration. The chapters are clearly labeled. The story is a powerful one, and I regret that I didn't use this book last year when teaching a literature circle on various experiences in World War II. I highly recommend this not only to the 10-14 year old "suggested reading audience," but to adult readers, as well. There is also a great bibliography at the end that includes several more young adult books about the Korean experience in WW2.


the Ink Slinger said...

I'd never heard of this book before you reviewed it, but it sure sounds like one to check out. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Anna said...

I'm glad to see you liked this book. I snagged it at a library sale several months ago, but haven't yet had a chance to read it. I hope it's okay to link to your review on War Through the Generations.