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Lost Names, by Richard .E. Kim was an interesting book to read because it shows the loving memory of a family and a lively portrayal of life in a time of anguish.
Richard Kim was born in 1932 in North Korea. In 1970, he started to write Lost Names to introduce the way Koreas lived. However, as time passed, the book evolved to a new level. He had many small details and by rearranging and interpreting a series of events, he was able to create a masterpiece that engages the reader to have a sense of what it felt like living in turmoil. Kim disregards the fact that the book is an autobiography or a fiction. According to Kim, “All the characters and events described in this book are real, but everything else is fiction.” However, even though the author claims the contents of this book is fictional, it generally reflects upon the narrator early years of life.
Lost Names consists of seven vivid chapters that desribe the life of a Korean family struggling to live a life under colonial rule. Each chapter is chronological series of events that span from 1932 to 1945. The first chapter, “Crossing” tells the story of the family crossing the Tumen River to Manchuria due to the new job the father found after he was released from prison. . The narrator’s father prison term is often mentioned in the book and it’s evident during the later parts of the book that his presence has deep impact on Koreans but as well as the Japanese. This leads to a start of a hard journey that the family must endure for the next 13 years. As we progress further in the book, we notice the family has moved back to Korea. This is also the time where the boy starts to go to school. During his years at school, he endured being discriminated against the Japanese as well as humiliation from the students and teachers His name was also erased by the Japanese when he and his father went to the police station to retrieve a new name. This was a painful time for the family especially for the boy, “I am going to lose my name; I am going to lose my name; we are all going to lose our names” The last chapter, “In the making of history --- together” tells us the story of liberation and how a new beginning has been paved for the next generation.
The title, Lost Names refers to the “Japanese Pacific War policy of forcing Koreans to replace their own names with Japanese ones” However, I feel that it has a deeper meaning to it, especially the word Lost. Many Koreans that lived under the Japanese policy had no choice but to change their name or adapt to their lifestyle. Students had to speak Japanese at school, and had to worship the Japanese Emperor. The Japanese had an objective and that was to “eradicate consciousness of Korean national identity, roots and all, and thus to obliterate the very existence of the Korean people from the face of the earth” Even though they were living in Korea, they were being controlled by the Japanese. One scene that I mentioned above was when the boy and the father went to retrieve their new names. All of the Koreans that had to get their name changed lost everything that includes: their name, their pride, and their culture. They are lost because they feel they do not belong to this world anymore. Many Koreans ended their own life because they were ashamed of their culture. February 11, 1940, was the day that they lost their names. It was a consequence for not correcting the mistake for the past generation, however, it created a new beginning for the current generation. When the father hugged the boy and told him “Someday, your generation will have to forgive us”, it meant that he hoped the current generation would not perform the same mistake the past generation did. The boy didn’t know what was going on but when they visited the grave of his ancestors, he realized everyone was hopeless. Everyone was “whining, wailing, chanting, bowing to the graves.” The father hoped that in the current generation, his boy will not have to say “I am ashamed to look in your eyes.” He hopes that his boy can face his ancestors with pride and dignity.
This leads to the final chapter where the boy has matured significantly from the time his name was changed. His conversation on liberation with his mom and father revealed the mistake that the past generation did. The boy was ashamed because liberation was given to them; it was “a gift” according to his father. The boy felt that the Koreans didn’t put enough effort to achieve liberation. Liberation happened because of Japan’s capitulation to the United States. The narrator’s father mentioned it was because his grandfather’s generation was much disorganized and did many stupid things that could have been avoided. They could have guided the country to its right path but instead left all the problems to the father generation. The only thing that they could have done was to survive. This was the mistake that the past generation did because they focused all of their energy to survive. Their whole life was based on survival. It was nearly impossible to start a movement because the Japanese had established their power. However, instead of being filled with revenge, the narrator’s father asked himself, “What can I do to change the situation around”. By surviving, they could lead the next generation so they don’t repeat the same mistake as the previous generation did. That is why the narrator’s father wishes his son to be the pillar for the next generation. He doesn’t want his son to see survival as his only goal because life is more than just surviving. The meaning of life can be interpreted in many ways but one meaning is to live life the fullest without regrets and to experience different things where you can treasure so you can pass it on to the next generation.
One of the positive aspects in the book would be the writing style Kim uses to bring the book to life. The story is full of descriptive details that allow the reader to feel the pain and frustration the character is going through. “The bamboo sword smashes my bottom, jolting me with a numbling blow that instantly shoots thousands of sharp needles of pain through my body…….My body is shaking, and my knees trembling, and I cant control my body.” In addition, the way the author shifts from past to present to describe an incident is used effectively as it can give the reader the ability to foreshadow events in the future. However, this may also be the negative aspect of the book as sometimes it maybe too confusing for the reader to know what is going on because the storytelling goes back and forth. Another negative point would be whether the details were accurate or not. The first event took place occurred in 1933, that was when Kim was only one year old. It’s hard to believe that Kim can actually remember what happened since he was still in his mother arms. Futhermore, Kim was thirty-eight years old when he wrote this book. Many of the incidents occurred when he was fairly young. During the span on 1945-1970, many things changed such as Kim serving the war for South Korea. Did Kim write these events based on a eight – thirteen year old mindset or on a thirty year old matured, war-oriented mindset.
One of the reasons why Kim wrote Lost Names was because he wanted to “to teach Koreans to accept responsibility for their lives, to stop blaming others, the Japanese, the Chinese.” He wanted to express his feelings and hardships by putting his experiences in a book. . He wishes that the reader will understand that hatred will only cause more suffering and that one must learn from its mistake so they can retrieve what is lost again. A similar example would be the U.S and Iraq issue. Things have not improved ever since U.S waged war on Iraq. Civilians are randomly slaughtered and the U.S has caused more chaos from before. The hatred towards the Iraqis has created a even bigger problem from before.
I was in awe after I finished reading Lost Names. The real life situations that the author depicted made me realize how much suffering and agony my friend’s grandfather faced when he was also suppressed by the Japanese. It gave me a better understand of what might have happened to my friend’s grandfather. In addition, it was interesting to read a book in a Korean point of view. I’ve learned that the life we have is very different to the narrator of the story. When I was his age, I was playing Super Nintendo and enjoying my life while the narrator was building airfields and fighting for freedom. However, the freedom we have now is due to the perseverance of the people that suffered in the past. It is because of them that we can enjoy the meaning of life. In the end, I definitely recommend Lost Names to all ages as it’s an excellent novel that shows hardships of one family and how they overcome it to accomplish their goals.
- For Teachers