Monday, January 4, 2010

Book Review: Under the Black Umbrella: Voices from Colonial Korea, 1910-1945

Title: Under the Black Umbrella: Voices from Colonial Korea, 1910-1945
Author: Hildi Kang
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Cornell University Press (October 20, 2005)
ISBN-10: 0801472709
ISBN-13: 978-0801472701

This is exactly what you want this type of book to be. Surprising, eye-opening, reliable, well-edited and jaw-dropping. If you are the least bit curious as to why your Korean grandmother hates all things Japanese, pick this book up. If you are in the pursuit of scholarly research and you need some oral history recollections, these are gold. The author has done extremely well in translating, arranging, presenting and setting historical context for each chapter.

Some stories are just a paragraph long while others go one for pages. Despite the sample being taken from elderly Koreans living in the American west coast, the people interviewed are amazing diverse and well-represented. The stories are captivating, earnest and beautifully told. I can't imagine how the stories must have sounded in the original language because the English translation is simply breathtaking.

The reader may find it unusual to hear that many Koreans became civilized or even friends with Japanese living in their towns during this period. The honesty of the interviewees runs counter to the widespread belief that all Japanese were zealous conquerors bent on world domination. Don't misunderstand, some of the stories indeed paint a terrible picture in terms of cultural repression, but as mentioned before, the book is well-balanced.

My only disappointment was the short length of the book. That's it. It's readable by anyone with a passing interest in Japanese colonial history. It's what you want - a collection of stories that completes any academic background you might have read.

Simply a gem.

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This is one of those books that makes you pat yourself on the back for buying. The preface bares the books possible shortcomings and prepares the reader for a honest look at some of the most difficult times experienced by Koreans in modern times.

Another reviewer might give you a better idea of what to expect.


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