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

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My Innocent Uncle, by Ch'ae Man-sik

Ch'ae Man-shik (or Man-sik), who wrote stories and novels during the colonial period, is considered one of the greats of Korean modern literature. Like his other work, these three stories hone in on individuals who face the dilemmas of their times, those dilemmas of culture and historical circumstance which offer a tragi-comedy of errors. His renown rises from targeting the common man, not the upper class, and by using the common vernacular and dialect in satirical portrayals of life under the Japanese and shortly after liberation. "My Innocent Uncle" is told from the point of view of the uneducated nephew who works for a Japanese businessman. He thinks his intellectual uncle is the fool, having been arrested for socialist ideals, and his aunt even more of a fool, since she has cared for him despite the uncle's affair and lack of "real work." It's a biting commentary both on the intellectual idealists of the era, and on those who collaborate and believe the promises of the Japanese. Looking at the life of the student intellectual, "A Ready-Made Life" follows a young man who, educated by the Japanese like all his contemporaries, remains jobless, broke and aimless. "Once Upon a Paddy" feels Chekhovian in its portrayal of a hapless farmer who tries to take advantage of an opportunity to sell his land to a high-paying Japanese speculator, but ends up owning nothing, even after liberation, which he had counted on to have his property returned to him. The stories are remarkable in their intimacy with character, historical and political outlook and use of detail about the period.

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