Three novels on Korean history give context for current events
Headlines about North and South Korea have been in the news recently, but what do Americans really know about the history of these countries? There may be gaps in our knowledge, but a trio of novels steps into that void, beautifully illuminating Korea’s past in ways that inform our present. the heart of a French diplomat, orphan-turnedcourt dancer Yi Jin ends up in Belle Epoque Paris at the behest of the emperor, who tasks her with building a diplomatic bridge between Korea and France.
Yi Jin finds a new kind of restriction when she realizes she still “could not be free of the attention of strangers, whether from kindness or curiosity.” Even to her French husband, she’s a mere token, a prize.
The novel delves into major historical events, including 1884’s Gapsin Coup and the Imo rebellion in 1882, while the power struggle between China and Japan for influence over Korea looms. By placing Korean history beside a Western narrative, Shin highlights the disparity between Europe and the more isolated Asian nation. At its core, “The Court Dancer” examines what countries lose in identity in exchange for technological advancement. other daughter, Inja, behind. What’s supposed to be a short separation turns into a long-term split after the Korean War breaks out. Despite growing up in vastly different worlds, the sisters both become outcasts.
Kim infuses a comingof-age story with the realities of the war, which forced many family separations, some of which still persist today.