Thursday, July 26, 2012

Book Review: A Yankee in the Land of the Morning Calm: A Historical Novel

Title: A Yankee in the Land of the Morning Calm: A Historical Novel
Author: Donald Southerton
eBook: 80 pages
Publisher: iUniverse (November 16, 2006)

A Yankee in the Land of the Morning Calm is the first in a trilogy of short historical fiction set in late nineteenth century Korea. The source material is based on and extrapolated from relevant historical evidence involving early American entrepreneurs in Korea. The fictional protagonist, Josh Gillet, hails from a sleepy New England town where he apprentices under his family-owned tinware company. When offered the opportunity to work the ledger at a local trading firm's Yokohama office, the young man signs up in hopes of experiencing adventure in the Far East. After arriving in Japan, further lucrative ventures await him in neighboring Korea. The budding entrepreneur soon discovers more about this mysteriously secluded country only recently opened to Western trade.

The story itself is believable enough and doesn't flirt with being overtly fictitious. It's a safe narrative that doesn't stray too far from expected adventure tale norms. However, the number of formatting and omission errors in the kindle edition is borderline unforgivable. There shouldn't be a reason why this ebook was so poorly edited but, in its current state, it's embarrassing. Based on this ebook, the author, while a longtime respected Koreanist and international business consultant, demonstrates that writing isn't his strong suit. In addition to careless editing and poor formatting, the term "Yankee" is grossly overused almost to the point of being derogatory. There's only so many times the protagonist can be referred to as "a young Yankee" or "the Yankee trader" until it becomes gratuitously offensive, or even worse, lazy writing. Less noticeable but still worth mentioning are the tacked on "sketches" and "wood prints" depicting scenes in the story. These illustrations undeniably are photographs that have been manipulated to look authentic to the period. Although the effort is acknowledged, the end result is transparently artificial and comes across as phony instead of complementing.

This seemingly rushed short story regrettably highlights the importance of hiring a good editor before publishing. It's actually not a bad story, but the faux-authentic illustrations and sloppy editing detracts from an otherwise passably entertaining, if not esoterically, historical novel. Unfortunately, the writing isn't exactly riveting and doesn't have any discernible charm. However, if you're especially interested in this recess of Korean history, then you might enjoy it. Otherwise, it's a short waste of your time.


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