Friday, 17 June 2011

My Name Was Keoko


“This powerful and riveting tale of one close-knit, proud Korean family movingly addresses life-and-death issues of courage and collaboration, injustice, and death-defying determination in the face of totalitarian oppression.”

When My Name Was Keoko

by Linda Sue Park

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Book Description
Sun-hee and her older brother Tae-yul are proud of their Korean heritage. Yet they live their lives under Japanese occupation. All students must read and write in Japanese and no one can fly the Korean flag. Hardest of all is when the Japanese Emperor forces all Koreans to take Japanese names. Sun-hee and Tae-yul become Keoko and Nobuo. Korea is torn apart by their Japanese invaders during World War II. Everyone must help with war preparations, but it doesn’t mean they are willing to defend Japan. Tae-yul is about to risk his life to help his family, while Sun-hee stays home guarding life-and-death secrets.

From School Library Journal
Grades 6-9. Living in Korea in the 1940s was difficult because the Japanese, who occupied the country, seemed determined to obliterate Korean culture and to impose their own on its residents.

Sun-hee and her older brother, Tae-yul, still go to school every day, but lessons now consist of lectures and recitations designed to glorify Japan. To add to their unhappiness, everyone, adults and children alike, must give up their Korean names and take new Japanese ones. Sun-hee, now called Keoko, and Tae-yul, newly named Nobuo, tell the story in alternating narrative voices. They describe the hardships their family is forced to face as Japan becomes enmeshed in World War II and detail their individual struggles to understand what is happening. Tension mounts as Uncle, working with the Korean resistance movement, goes into hiding, and Tae-yul takes a drastic step that he feels is necessary to protect the family.

What is outstanding is the insight Park gives into the complex minds of these young people. Each of them reacts to the events in different ways-Sun-hee takes refuge in writing while Tae-yul throws his energies into physical work. Yet in both cases they develop subtle plans to resist the enemy. Like the Rose of Sharon tree, symbol of Korea, which the family pots and hides in their shed until their country is free, Sun-hee and Tae-yul endure and grow. This beautifully crafted and moving novel joins a small but growing body of literature, such as Haemi Balgassi's Peacebound Trains (Clarion, 1996) and Sook Nyul Choi's The Year of Impossible Goodbyes (Houghton, 1991), that expands readers' understanding of this period.

About the Author
Linda Sue Park is the author of the Newbery Medal book A Single Shard, many other novels, several picture books, and most recently a book of poetry: Tap Dancing on the Roof: Sijo (Poems). She lives in Rochester, New York, with her family, and is now a devoted fan of the New York Mets.

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