Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Book Review: The Trespassers: Korea, June 1871

Title: The Trespassers: Korea, June 1871
Author: Irving Werstein
Hardback: 158 pages
Publisher: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc (May 1969)

ISBN-10: 999922928X
ISBN-13: 978-9999229289

And for today's obscure gem, we have (un)celebrated children's author Irving Werstein, who published dozens of short nonfiction titles that frequently dealt with international war. I came across this while researching the USS Pueblo Incident, which is mentioned in the introduction. For a library book from the late 60s, I have to say that I was impressed. Onto the review:

A short nonfiction account of the Battle of Kanghwa Island (1871) aimed at junior high school readers, this entertaining retelling of the "Sinmiyangyo" incident is surprisingly well-constructed. In addition to drawing on remarkably telling journal and diary entries from officers, sailors and marines who participated in the battle, the corresponding ink illustrations by Joseph Papin make this a delightfully fun, if not obscure, gem. If you happen to run across an old school library copy, I recommend picking it up.

It's sad to think that only four years later, the Japanese would end up doing a number on the island, too, and eventually the country itself in 1876.

Curiously not mentioned in the book, the marines famously captured the defending general's flag and brought it back to the states. There, it festered in an obscure wing of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Maryland. Seeing as how the flag was questionably obtained (the countries were not technically at war) its housing in an American museum raised the interests of a fellow acquaintance.

Korean archery expert and longtime American expat Thomas Duvernay was instrumental in repatriating the flag to Korea, albeit on a ten year loan. Unrelated, but also interesting is that his son, Nicholas, is a rockstar slash professor. Very impressive.

Lastly, a short biography of Irving Werstein courtesy of LibraryThing:
Irving Werstein was born and raised in Brooklyn, but grew up in Queens. He attended P.S. 90 and graduated from Richmond Hill High School, where he was on the staff of the school paper. Despite the Depression years of the early 1930's, he entered New York University, but family finances forced him to leave school only after 2 years. He claimed he left college to "see the world." He enjoyed various careers along the way, including those of waiter, camp counselor, factory worker, reporter. Mr. Werstein made his first writing sale in 1938. Before being drafted in 1941, Werstein sold many stories to mens and adventure magazines He served in the Army during WWII, stationed in Panama. On the eve of his transportation to England for the D-Day invasion, he contracted malaria, and sat out the remainder of the war stateside. In the army, he honed his writing skills working for the Army magazine, Yank. He achieved the exalted rank of Corporal. After his honorable discharge, he seriously embarked on a full-time writing career, selling his stories to the likes of Saturday Evening Post, plus radio and TV. He spent much of the late 40's and early 50's traveling, living abroad in England, Mexico and Italy. He returned and resided permanently in New York City, in particular, at the newly developed Stuyvesant Town apartments. His first published book, July 1863, came out in the fall of 1957. His newly adopted son arrived on February 22, 1958, a four year old born in Belgium. With his wife Goldie, the family resided continuously on the lower east side, with a move to Peter Cooper Village in 1968. Mr. Westein wrote over 50 books, mostly concentrating his efforts on non-fiction writing for young adults. He died of a sudden heart attack on April 7 1971. His wife died several months later. He left behind his young son Jack, now a librarian, living in Washington D.C. with his own adopted son, Michael.


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