Posted on April 3, 2014
Jae Kim is currently a student at the University of Toronto. In September of 2013, he founded the University of Toronto Korean English Literature Society (KELS). His goal is to encourage thoughtful reflection of Korean contemporary culture. He shared that while Korean pop music, film, and cuisine have gained tremendous popularity within North American society, books and other literary works by writers of Korean heritage continue to pass under the radar. You can find out more about KELS by visiting its website.
I just started reading Three Generations by Yom Sang-seop. It’s the first Korean book I’m reading that has been translated into English. The story, set in Japanese-occupied Korea during the 1930s, chronicles the highs and lows of the Jo family. It is considered one of the most influential works of fiction in modern Korean literature. You can read more about Yom Sang-seop’s book here.
Posted on May 28, 2013
I have a tendency of reading more than one book at a time. Right now, Chang-Rae Lee’s A Gesture Life is sitting on my nightstand. It’s what I’m reading at home. Judy Fong Bates’ Midnight at the Dragon Café is in my bag. It gets read everywhere else, especially in my car as I wait for my daughter during her piano lessons and band practice.
Lee, a Korean-American writer, immigrated to the States in 1965. A Gesture Life weaves some heavy issues into the storytelling, including the treatment of Korean comfort women by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II – something the protagonist witnessed during his years of military service. Needless to say, it has a profound effect on him that lasts a lifetime.
Fong-Bates is a Chinese-Canadian writer. I’m only a couple of chapters into Midnight at the Dragon Café, which was recommended to me by a friend. The book was the 2011 One Book Community Read for the city of Toronto.
Posted on May 26, 2013
One of my goals this year was to read books by writers of Asian heritage, or to read more stories with protagonists of diverse backgrounds. I regret that growing up and all through these years, I haven’t made it a priority to expose myself to stories told in multicultural voices.
Through high school, university, and college curriculums, I have been exposed to a wealth of brilliant writers, from Chaucer to Hemingway, and many Canadian writers in between. I didn’t even stop to consider that all the stories I read were told from a Western perspective. This has had an interesting impact on me as a reader and now as a writer. I assume every character I read about is white unless told otherwise. I’m not alone. When I wrote ‘The boy ate an apple’ on the chalkboard and asked a classroom full of students, “What ethnicity was that boy?” All of them, even the black and Asian students responded, “white”.
As Canadian educators, writers, and readers, we need to do a better job of promoting diverse voices and experiences. It is 2013, yet the reading lists for Independent Study Projects in senior English classes haven’t changed much since the 80s when I was in high school. To throw in the odd book by a black or Asian writer to “modernize and update” the list isn’t enough.
I recently finished Frances Itani’s Requiem, a story about Bin, a Japanese Canadian struggling with loss on many levels. Although set in 1997, the story takes readers back to 1942, a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Twenty-two thousand Japanese Canadians in British Columbia were interned, in what is one of Canada’s darkest periods in history.
Posted on September 14, 2012
“Noranbang” is about a Korean family living in Toronto, Canada, during the late 1970s. This is only the second play that I’ve read by a playwright of Korean heritage with a story set in Canada. I especially enjoyed seeing the Korean words and phrases woven throughout the dialogue. I wish such books and plays existed when I was a child, or if they did, I had known about them. I was never exposed to any books by Asian writers in either high school or university. I hadn’t even thought to think about them.
The other plays in this collection are: “Yellow Fever” by R.A. Shiomi, “Bachelor-Man” by Winston Christopher Kim, “Maggie’s Last Dance” by Marty Chan, “Mother’s Tongue” by Better Quan, and “The Plum Tree” by Mitch Miyagawa.