Korean American Books

Summaries and reviews of fiction and nonfiction books by Korean American authors,
books about Korean Americans and Korea, and Korean literature in English translation,
including some academic works and a sampling on the Korean War

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong: The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea, transl and annot by JaHyun Kim Haboush

Beyond the scholarly merit and historical significance of this book, the story is hugely compelling, not merely for the facts of the chilling event, but for several other reasons.

First, the view Lady Hyegyong provides of the court life and the strict Confucian beliefs that hinge on filial piety, loyalty, virtue and honor is evident more in what she doesn't say than what is said. It's a growing subtle presentation of how life unfolded within these confines of faith, and as a result, how tragedy after tragedy continued to compound. One could read the Analects or any Neo-Confucian work, and not understand to the degree shown here the depths of the practice and belief that affected every aspect of life in the late Choson era.

Second, along with JaHyun Kim Haboush's careful introduction, the annotations she has so helpfully added, the glossaries and appendices, the book presents a highly respectful translation that brings forth all the humanity of the players in a way that makes the story unfold like a novel of hope, horror, survival and the desire for inner peace and heavenly redemption.

Third, by providing the historical literary context of these MEMOIRS (in the introduction), we benefit from understanding not only the historical events but the tense cultural climate and the severe limitations that Lady Hyegyong had to challenge and overcome in order to redeem the honor of her family. Almost as a self-reflective postmodern work of existentialism, the book stands as its own redemptive testament to its themes.

To read of this historical event from one who suffered in its aftermath, and who despite the strictures of her sex and position could tell of it with artistry, is an amazing literary experience.

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