[NEWBOOKS]

2010-03-30 15:19

Return of Confucian literature
Eastern Sentiments
By Yi Tae-jun
Translated by Janet Poole
(Columbia University Press, 208 pages, $45.00)

Through a Confucian framework and a return to the form of anecdotes of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), "Eastern Sentiments" portrays life in a reshaping society of colonization and modernization. Set in colonial Korea, this collection of essays reflects the distinct voice and lyrical expression of Yi Tae-jun.
Yi was a prolific and influential writer of his time, acknowledged as a novelist as well as an influential editor of cultural news. His most renowned mastership, however, was in the short story and essay.
With subjects ranging from stone gardens to immigration villages in Manchuria, from antiques to colonial assimilation, and from fishing to the absurdity of human feet, Yi reveals his many thoughts on the passing of tradition and the rhythm of a newly industrializing society.
Yi`s essays recount his attempt to re-experience Korean roots despite the absorption into the Japanese nation. Rather than displaying the dissonant juxtaposition of past and present in the narrative, Yi takes a more subtle approach of adopting a traditional genre and form. By reviving the Joseon anecdote structure, Yi`s works take on dual significance, not only as nostalgia for tradition in a time of modernization, but also as an iconoclast in a society where the past is appropriated and reinterpreted by a colonial regime.
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Janet Poole not only faithfully reproduces Yi`s complex craft, retaining his idiosyncratic tone and narrative, but also offers an excellent introduction placing the remarkable prose stylist in historical, political and aesthetical contexts.
Yi`s nostalgic efforts to retain tradition from inevitable modernization resonates with the fast changes of today`s world. In the same way that Poole describes Yi`s essays as "an elegy for a Korea that was disappearing," the book serves as an elegy for a literature that is disappearing.

A closer look into industralization and Park Chung-hee

The Korea Story: President Park Jung-hee`s Leadership and the Korean Industrial Revolution
By O Won-chol
Translated by Michael Bujold and You Young-ki
(Wisdom Tree, 800 pages, $98.00)

Despite the complaints that history cannot and should not be sectioned, "decaditis," an absurd notion that slicing up the past into periods of ten years is a useful thing to do, continues to prevail.
In the last Korean century, one period draws most attention, the 1960s and 70s. The developments in economic policies of this period - and the so-called "Miracle of the Han" that followed - enabled the country to achieve the level of economic development that is enjoyed today. It is precisely on these achievements that O Won-chol writes The Korea Story.
The author, a close and trusted associate of Park Chung-hee, the president of the time, was one of the key engineers of the social, political and economic transformations of the two-decade process. As a living witness to Korea`s industrialization, he writes the book to "simply relay what I knew and what I experienced."
The book surveys various aspects of the economic, industrial and even land-structure revolutions and reorganizations under President Park`s reign.
He not only recounts the significant events and decisions that make up the revolution but also explains the details of political procedures and thought processes behind each administration. These commentaries allow the reader to relate and better understand the mentality behind President Park`s transformations
In addition, unusual to the genre of politics and economics, O`s narrative style of writing helps the flow of the book, making it more approachable and enjoyable.

The prevailing power of Arirang

Arirang: Song of Korea
By Lee Chung-myun
(Easy Publishing Co,
328 pages, $30.00)

Lee Chung-myun takes the traditional Korean folksong Arirang and discusses the past, present and future of Korea through an analysis of the song`s historical, geographical and sentimental contexts.
Lee, professor at the University of Utah, has lived abroad for half a century. Yet his Korean roots have been far from forgotten and remain an integral part of his personal and academic lives.
Starting with the characteristics and history of the folksong, Lee establishes the sentimental significance of Arirang in Korean culture. Through a survey of the folksong`s variations, Lee provides a history of the diffusion of Arirang both within and outside the peninsula. Touching upon the topic of Korean diaspora, Lee also examines the prevailing significance of Arirang to the second generations abroad.
The research furthermore explores the "possibility of the globalization of Arirang." Lee concludes with the meaning of Arirang as "a message of peace and humanism" as opposed to a symbol of Korea within the global picture, and finishes the book with, "Arirang is a universal communication tool. Therefore, it is worthwhile to cherish and appreciate the Arirang tradition and spirit."
"Arirang: Song of Korea" delivers the author`s passion for the topic and succeeds in surveying the significance of Arirang thus far in history.
Reviewed by An Ji-yoon (jyan2787@googlemail.com)
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