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EMINENTLY READABLE. IRRESISTIBLE.
am 23. August 1998
I was warned against Prf. Cumings and his "unwholesome" views by some credible and respectable people. But when I asked them if they had actually read this work, I found out, as I had already suspected, that not one of them had! Naturally, I HAD TO satisfy my curiosity about this infamous author. AND I AM SO GLAD I DID. I know more for having read it. And reading it was so enjoyable.
Indeed, one of the most impressive aspects of this book is that it is so WELL WRITTEN. His prose is stylish and elegant. Do not expect of him the tedious and ponderous grandiosity adopted by the run-of-the-mill historians. His sentences are precise, energetic, and fluid.
And what's more, I was charmed by his irrepressible wit. Indeed, it rendered reading through the all too many dreadful passages in Korea's history somewhat less unpleasant. Yes, he is definitely opinionated (and isn't that the whole point of a historian's writing about alleged facts anyway?) but very charmingly so. His refreshing candor and avowed passions for his beloved subject is disarming, and touching.
As for the contents, they were shocking, to say the least. Take it from a Korean American who attended the draconian South Korean schools during the Park Chung-Hee regime; one becomes VERY skeptical when it comes to Korean "history". And I say as a skeptic that he has dug up some interesting facts, and I do believe that he did not manufacture them. Compared to the sloppily documented (if at all) slop they gave me in schools and the sleazy, bogus stuff circulating in Korean periodicals and papers, this version of history is far more plausible. And definitely possible - actually, make that probable - and certainly more compellingly presented.
Also of interests are his sources. He cites many works I had never heard of before, for some reason or other. And there are many. Just for these alone this book should be highly recommended.
*** Warning! You may get royally ticked off, especially if you are of Korean heritage or naive enough to trust that justice and wisdom prevail in this world.
And I'd like to add, as a Korean American, that it is a wonderful change to actually read a book on Korea by a non Korean-born person who actually does "know all about Korea". I am particularly appreciative of the fact that he kept taking words right out of my mouth regarding the patronizing Western attitudes, especially from the likes of Beatrice Webb, who kept calling the Korean race "horrid", "low vertebrates," etc. When I emigrated to this country in '79, the only books I could find in my school library on Korea were written by people such as she. I was twelve and I shook with an impotent rage when I came across such ignorant remarks from such half-educated, narrow-minded, "Christians" abroad, out to "help" a benighted yellow race but only succeeding in blinding people back home about what was really out there - people just like them struggling to modernize.