Three nov­els on Korean his­tory give con­text for cur­rent events

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Life - BY NI­COLE Y. CHUNG

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.

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