When My Name Was Keoko

( 26 )

Overview

Sun-hee and her older brother, Tae-yul, live in Korea with their parents. Because Korea is under Japanese occupation, the children study Japanese and speak it at school. Their own language, their flag, the folktales Uncle tells them?even their names?are all part of the Korean culture that is now forbidden. When World War II comes to Korea, Sun-hee is surprised that the Japanese expect their Korean subjects to fight on their side. But the greatest shock of all comes when Tae-yul enlists in the Japanese army in an ...

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Overview

Sun-hee and her older brother, Tae-yul, live in Korea with their parents. Because Korea is under Japanese occupation, the children study Japanese and speak it at school. Their own language, their flag, the folktales Uncle tells them—even their names—are all part of the Korean culture that is now forbidden. When World War II comes to Korea, Sun-hee is surprised that the Japanese expect their Korean subjects to fight on their side. But the greatest shock of all comes when Tae-yul enlists in the Japanese army in an attempt to protect Uncle, who is suspected of aiding the Korean resistance. Sun-hee stays behind, entrusted with the life-and-death secrets of a family at war.

With national pride and occasional fear, a brother and sister face the increasingly oppressive occupation of Korea by Japan during World War II, which threatens to suppress Korean culture entirely.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Newbery Medal winner Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard) has written a poignant novel about the World War II-era Japanese occupation of Korea, when even Korean names were forbidden. Kim Sun-hee and her older brother Tae-yul must cope not only with the rigors of occupation but their own family secrets, as well.
From the Publisher
This powerful and riveting tale of one close-knit, proud Korean family movingly addresses life-and-death issues of courage and collaboration, injustice, and death-defying determination in the face of totalitarian oppression. —Kirkus Reviews with Pointers

A brother and sister alternate as narrators in Newbery Medalist Park's (A Single Shard) well-contructed novel, which takes place from 1940-1945 in Japanese-occupied Korea. . . .Through the use of shifting narrators, Park subtly points up the differences between male and female roles in Korean society; and the father's process of choosing the family's Japanese name speaks volumes about his strength and intelligence. . . . Readers will come away with an appreciation of this period of history and likely a greater interest in learning more about it. —Publishers Weekly, Starred

Park is a masterful prose stylist, and her characters are developed beautifully. She excels at making traditional Korean culture accessible to Western readers. —VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)

The drama is in the facts about the war, and Park does a fine job of showing how the politics of the occupation and resistance affect ordinary people. —Booklist, ALA

What is outstanding is the insight Park gives into the complex minds of these young people. Each of them reacts to the events in different ways—Sun-hee takes refuge in writing while Tae-yul throws his energies into physical work. . . . This beautifully crafted and moving novel joins a small but growing body of literature[.] —School Library Journal, Starred

"Vivid…historical details heighten realism. The final scene shines with hope….a beautifully crafted story that delights as it informs." —Riverbank Review

Kathleen Odean
As she did so effectively in her Newbery Award winner, A Single Shard, Park makes Korean history emotionally compelling in this excellent novel. Chapters alternate between Sun-hee and her older brother, Tae-yul, as Korea suffers under harsh Japanese rule during World War II. The two are forced to give up their Korean names and most possessions; spend their school days bombarded by propaganda; and lose contact with their beloved uncle, a resistance fighter. In a startling climax, Tae-yul makes a patriotic decision that could change the family forever. This is a gripping read.
Publishers Weekly
"A brother and sister alternate as narrators in this well-constructed novel, which takes place from 1940-1945 in Japanese-occupied Korea," wrote PW in a starred review. "Through the use of the shifting narrators, Park subtly points up the differences between male and female roles in Korean society and telling details provide a clear picture of the siblings and their world." Ages 10-up. (Jan.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
VOYA
It has become general knowledge only recently that during World War II, the Japanese government enslaved thousands of young Korean women, forcing them to act as army prostitutes. Although Park, author of 2002 Newbery winner A Single Shard (Clarion, 2001/see previous VOYA review), barely mentions this horrendous act in her superb new novel, she does make it clear how thoroughly Japan mistreated the people of Korea in the years from 1910 to 1945. Alternating between the viewpoints of ten-year-old Sun-hee and her older brother, Tae-yul, the novel depicts with great delicacy and discernment what life was like in Korea during the war years. The Japanese attempted to assimilate their nearest mainland neighbors while at the same time refusing to grant them any meaningful equality. Korean culture was suppressed ruthlessly. It was illegal to teach the Korean alphabet, and everyone was required to adopt a Japanese name. Sun-hee watches helplessly as Japanese superiors humiliate her father, a great scholar who legally cannot be principal of his own school. Her uncle, who runs an underground printing operation, must go into hiding. To avoid Japanese attempts to use him to betray his uncle, Tae-yul is forced to join the Imperial Air Force and then is taken on a dangerous mission from which he is unlikely to return. Park is a masterful prose stylist, and her characters are developed beautifully. She excels at making traditional Korean culture accessible to Western readers. This lovely and powerful novel is one clearly deserving of award consideration. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P M J (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High,defined as grades 7 to 9). 2002, Clarion, 199p,
— Michael Levy
KLIATT
An ALA Best Book for YAs, this book is also reviewed as an audiobook in this issue of KLIATT. To quote from that review, "This unusual book of historical fiction, told from the point of view of young adolescents, is set in a Korea occupied by Japan; it concludes at the end of WW II. A sister and brother, Sun-hee (Keoko of the title) and Tae-yul, experience the fears and humiliations that go with military defeat. Japanese hold all positions of power. The people must speak Japanese and take Japanese names. When Japan attacks the US, Koreans are expected to join the Japanese war effort even though they secretly know that Japan's defeat would mean their liberation... An excellent choice for students with Korean roots and good students who like substance in their stories. Valuable for discussion in a literature or history class." KLIATT Codes: J*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior high school students. 2002, Random House, Dell Yearling, 199p. bibliog., Ages 12 to 15.
—Edna Boardman
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-Living in Korea in the 1940s was difficult because the Japanese, who occupied the country, seemed determined to obliterate Korean culture and to impose their own on its residents. Sun-hee and her older brother, Tae-yul, still go to school every day, but lessons now consist of lectures and recitations designed to glorify Japan. To add to their unhappiness, everyone, adults and children alike, must give up their Korean names and take new Japanese ones. Sun-hee, now called Keoko, and Tae-yul, newly named Nobuo, tell the story in alternating narrative voices. They describe the hardships their family is forced to face as Japan becomes enmeshed in World War II and detail their individual struggles to understand what is happening. Tension mounts as Uncle, working with the Korean resistance movement, goes into hiding, and Tae-yul takes a drastic step that he feels is necessary to protect the family. What is outstanding is the insight Park gives into the complex minds of these young people. Each of them reacts to the events in different ways-Sun-hee takes refuge in writing while Tae-yul throws his energies into physical work. Yet in both cases they develop subtle plans to resist the enemy. Like the Rose of Sharon tree, symbol of Korea, which the family pots and hides in their shed until their country is free, Sun-hee and Tae-yul endure and grow. This beautifully crafted and moving novel joins a small but growing body of literature, such as Haemi Balgassi's Peacebound Trains (Clarion, 1996) and Sook Nyul Choi's The Year of Impossible Goodbyes (Houghton, 1991), that expands readers' understanding of this period.-Barbara Scotto, Michael Driscoll School, Brookline, MA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The author of three novels set in different periods of Korean history (A Single Shard, 2001, etc.) now turns to WWII for the story of a brother and sister and their lives with their parents and uncle. Telling their story in alternating voices, the two siblings offer complementary and sometimes different versions of events. Sun-hee, in the last year of elementary school in 1940, loves studying and is an obedient daughter while older brother Tae-yul loves speed and machines. Their uncle is a source of concern because he publishes an underground, anti-Japanese newspaper. The Japanese had conquered Korea in 1910 and as the war looms their demands on the Koreans intensify. Food grows scarcer and the Koreans, long forbidden to study their own culture and language, now must take Japanese names. Thus Sun-hee becomes Keoko. In one memorable passage, Sun-hee misunderstands an oblique warning from her Japanese friend and assumes that her uncle's life is in danger. He flees, never to be seen again as the war and the post-war communist government in the north keep them apart. This beautifully written story captures these events through the eyes of a very likable young girl. In her voice, readers share the joys of playing cat's cradle, eating popcorn, and tasting American chewing gum for the first time. Through Tae-yul's they experience his gritty determination to join a kamikaze unit in order to protect his family from the suspicious Japanese. There is food for thought when Sun-hee's father tells her that "they burn the paper-not the words" when referring to the Japanese soldiers who destroy her diary. There have been relatively few stories for young readers that are set in Asia during WWII. Thispowerful and riveting tale of one close-knit, proud Korean family movingly addresses life-and-death issues of courage and collaboration, injustice, and death-defying determination in the face of totalitarian oppression. (afterword, bibliography) (Fiction. 10-15)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547722399
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/17/2012
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 61,044
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Linda Sue Park is the author of the Newbery Medal book A Single Shard, many other novels, several picture books, and most recently a book of poetry: Tap Dancing on the Roof: Sijo (Poems). She lives in Rochester, New York, with her family, and is now a devoted fan of the New York Mets. For more infromation visit www.lspark.com.

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Read an Excerpt

1. Sun-hee (1940)

"It's only a rumor," Abuji said as I cleared the table. "They'll never carry it out."

My father wasn't talking to me, of course. He was talking to Uncle and my brother, Tae-yul, as they sat around the low table after dinner, drinking tea.

I wasn't supposed to listen to men's business, but I couldn't help it. It wasn't really my fault. Ears don't close the way eyes do.

I worked slowly. First I scraped the scraps of food and dregs of soup into an empty serving dish. Then I stacked the brass bowls--quietly, so they wouldn't clang against one another. Finally, I moved around the table and began putting the bowls through the little low window between the sitting room and the kitchen. The kitchen was built three steps down from the central courtyard, and the sitting room three steps up. From the window I could reach a shelf in the kitchen. I put the bowls on the shelf one at a time, arranging them in a very straight line.

The longer I stayed in the room, the more I'd hear.

Uncle shook his head. "I don't know, Hyungnim," he said, disagreeing respectfully. "They're masters of organization--if they want this done, you can be sure they will find a way to do it. And I fear what will happen if they do. Our people will not stand for it. I am afraid there will be terrible trouble--"

Abuji cleared his throat to cut off Uncle's words. He'd noticed me kneeling by the table with the last of the bowls in my hands; I was listening so hard that I'd stopped moving. Hastily, I shoved the bowl through the window and left the room, sliding the paper door closed behind me.

What rumor? What was going to happen? What kind of trouble?

When I asked Tae-yul later, he said it was none of my business. That was his answer a lot of the time. It always made me want to clench my fists and stamp my foot and hit something.

Nobody ever told me anything. I always had to find out for myself. But at least I was good at it.

You had to do two opposite things: be quiet and ask questions. And you had to know when to be quiet and who to ask.

When was easy. I was supposed to be quiet most of the time. The youngest in the family was never supposed to talk when older people were talking. And girls weren't supposed to talk much anyway, not when men or boys were around. So listening was easy for me; I'd done it all my life.

But lots of times I didn't learn what I wanted to know by listening. That was when I had to ask questions.

I could have asked my mother, Omoni, when we were doing housework together. But I'd learned that it was useless to ask her most questions. Either she didn't know the answer or she wouldn't tell me. Men's business, she'd say.

Abuji knew almost all the answers. I was sure of that. But I hardly ever asked him. He always said exactly what he wanted to say, and no more.

That left Uncle and Tae-yul. Usually, I tried Uncle first. He was quite cheerful about answering me most of the time. And when he wasn't around, I'd ask my brother. Firstborn son, only son--the men usually included him in their talks.

Tae-yul was thirteen, three years older than me. He was often impatient when I asked questions, and acted as if I were stupid for asking in the first place. But that was better than not knowing things.

Listening and asking weren't enough, of course. After that came the hard part--the figuring out.

They'll never carry it out. . . . They're masters of organization. . . . I knew who "they" were. The Japanese. Whenever there was talk that I wasn't supposed to hear, it was almost always about the Japanese.

A long time ago, when Abuji was a little boy and Uncle just a baby, the Japanese took over Korea. That was in 1910. Korea wasn't its own country anymore.

The Japanese made a lot of new laws. One of the laws was that no Korean could be the boss of anything. Even though Abuji was a great scholar, he was only the vice-principal of my school, not the principal. The person at the top had to be Japanese. The principal was the father of my friend Tomo.

All our lessons were in Japanese. We studied Japanese language, culture, and history. Schools weren't allowed to teach Korean history or language. Hardly any books or newspapers were published in Korean. People weren't even supposed to tell old Korean folktales. But Uncle did sometimes--funny stories about foolish donkeys or brave tigers, or exciting ones about heroes like Tan-gun, the founder of Korea. Tae-yul and I loved it when Uncle told us stories.

We still spoke Korean at home, but on the streets we always had to speak Japanese. You never knew who might be listening, and the military guards could punish anyone they heard speaking Korean. They usually didn't bother older people. But my friends and I had to be careful when we were in public.

Every once in a while another new law was announced, like the one when I was little that required us to attend temple on the Emperor's birthday. I decided that this must be the rumor--Abuji and Uncle had heard about a new law.

I was right.

2. Tae-yul

Sun-hee is a real pain sometimes. Always asking questions, always wanting to know what's going on. I tell her it's none of her business, which is true. Abuji would tell her if he wanted her to know.

But I don't know what's happening either. Why hasn't he told me? It's not like I'm a little kid anymore--I'm old enough to know stuff.

One day I get home from school and Uncle comes in right after me. He's early, it's way before dinnertime. He's got a newspaper in one hand, and he walks right past me without even saying hello. "Hyungnim!" he calls.

Abuji is in the sitting room. Uncle goes in and closes the door behind him. I listen hard, but I can't hear anything--until Uncle raises his voice. "I won't do it!" he shouts. "They can't do this--they can't take away our names! I am Kim Young-chun, I will never be anyone else!"

Omoni and Sun-hee come out of the kitchen and look at me. I turn away a little, annoyed that I don't know what's going on. Just then Abuji opens the door and waves his hand toward us. So we all go into the room. Uncle is pacing around like crazy.

Abuji reads out loud from the newspaper: "'By order of the Emperor, all Koreans are to be graciously allowed to take Japanese names.'"

"'Graciously allowed . . .'" Uncle says. His voice is shaking, he's so mad. "How dare they twist the words! Why can't they at least be honest--we are being forced to take Japanese names!"

Abuji reads some more to himself, then says, "We must all go to the police station in the next week to register."

Uncle curses and pounds his fist against the wall.

My name, Tae-yul, means "great warmth." My grandfather--Abuji's father--chose it. It's one of our traditions for the grandfather to do the naming.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 26 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2007

    Honest Book

    Linda Park is an exceptional writer of Korean culture and its history. Although she was educated in the US, her understanding of Korean culture and history are innately exceptional. Unlike other writers of her similar background, Park does not compromise other people¿s culture, Korean, to satisfy the cursory American readers nor does she try to mystify Korean culture to spice up the content of her novel¿a style some other writers often use. Her book may, or will, disappoint some readers who are expecting to read the mystical world of Korea, even though in reality, different cultures share many common values. Her story is based on a middle class Korean family when Korea was under the Japanese military occupation. Ironically she decided not to include the atrocities of the Japanese brutality during their colonization of Korea such as countless rapes and tortures that the Japanese soldiers inflicted during the early part of the 20th century. Yet, Park¿s silent display of the Japanese¿ visible arrogance and their obviously intimidating presence in Korea were subtly but compellingly displayed through out. The main part of her story, however, is about the Kim family and their resilience to overcome the harsh reality. Although her characters do not see themselves as victims with their overtly optimistic views of the world, Park nevertheless indicates otherwise. When the Japanese soldiers decide to take away rice, which is a main meal for the Koreans, for their war efforts, the mother sought other means to provide meals to her family and refuses to let her family go hungry. The father, a great scholar, watches haplessly, when the Japanese soldiers takes away his son¿s biggest wealth, a used bicycle, in the name of the emperor, tries to console his son, knowing that resisting would only result in beating. Yet, this weak father has been secretly writing to the outlawed Korean Independence paper to inspire hope. The son volunteers to the Japanese imperial army to provide better meals to his family and ultimately volunteers to be a Kamikaze pilot, challenging his Japanese superiors¿ belief that Koreans are useless. The daughter tries to maintain normalcy in the chaotic time of the war. Through these wonderful characters Park shows an ordinary family in a time that threatens the family¿s very existence. Recently some how, the Japanese have become the victims of World War II for some legitimate reasons. We should never forget the innocent victims of the two atomic bombs at the end of the war. However, that does not justify Japan¿s staggering atrocities that resulted millions of deaths and countless rapes that still remain intact in the hearts of millions of victims in Asia and Japan¿s current administers¿ silence of its past. Park¿s book is not a charismatic book that will ultimately made in a movie but it is a historic book that is both refreshing and powerful.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2010

    Book Review

    "When we chose our new names, I pointed to the letter K. I went around whispering over and over, "Keoko. Kaneyama Keoko. Keoko" I could think about "Kaneyama Keoko" as a name but not as my name."
    How would you feel if you were forced to change your name? When My Name Was Keoko is a realistic fiction written by Linda Sue Park. The main characters are Sun-hee and her brother, Tae-yul. They love each other very much, even though Tae-yul gets mad at Sun-hee for making a mistake. She told her uncle that the Japanese were going to arrest him; her uncle went into hiding. Sun-hee told her uncle something that was not true. Her misunderstanding leads her uncle into big trouble. His disappearance has been discovered by the Japanese, and he was a criminal now. Sun-hee realizes her mistake, and feels guilty. But later, she is told by Tae-yul that he is still alive.
    I liked this book, because the author described the characters' feelings in different situations, and made the story more interesting. I would recommend this book to people who are interested in Korean history.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 12, 2011

    Student writing a review from winter springs,fl

    I such a big fan of linda sue park that i knew this was the right book for moi! For most of the people reading this, the could have felt the sorrow and the mental pain the koreans were getting. Im korean also and so is the author of this book. I just wish this was written in hangul....

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2005

    Wonderful Book

    This was a real page turner! I could not put the book down, I learned a lot from this story. I hope to read more by this author!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2004

    Great Book!

    I couldn't put this book down. It was so sad, yet it had something that always wanted me to know more about what was going to happen next. It's no wonder it got the Caudill award!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2003

    When My Name was Keoko review

    I thought this was a very good book because it makes you think of life in those times. It's hard for us to illustrate what life was like back then, but I can perfectly picture what it was in this book. I reccomend this book 100%

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2013

    Bookworm Opinion

    This book is awesome. I read this as a paperback and thought that it was very well written. It was really cool how Linda Sue Park recounted her mothers'expirence during WWII. This book is just really good. I totally recomend this book to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2014

    Favorie book ever

    This book was amazibg i have read it 3 times i love how it is historical ficton but it is diffrent than others

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2014

    When My Name Was Keoko, Linda Sue Park                          

    When My Name Was Keoko, Linda Sue Park                               Alex Sam, 7th grade
    196 pages, Random House Books                            Lawson Middle School, Cupertino, CA
    grades 4­-7                                                                                              ISBN:0­440­41944­1

    Keoko is in the middle of World War II, under Japanese oppression. In "When My Name
    Was Keoko" by Linda Sue Park, a girl is stripped of almost all her belongings, including her name.
    Her family and her are suffering, and Keoko feels angry, sad, and proud at times. Her family on
    the other hand, is afraid of being seized by the Japanese and executed. Even worse, Keoko’s
    brother drafts himself into the Japanese military.
    I read this book at first only because it was a school assignment, but on the second day, I
    couldn't resist myself, I was hooked. I read the whole book in one sitting! Linda’s novel is a page
    turner, and though it has many nonfictional elements, it is, historical fiction, and it is neither a
    sequel, or a prequel. I would have recommended this book to people who are about 10­-13 years
    old, and like to read about brave, and hard to make decisions concerning the lives of those close
    to you. The author was not involved in the war herself, but her relatives were, and that is what
    motivated her to write this book. She also uses an interesting way in telling the story, switching
    between the point of view from Keoko, to Keoko’s brother, providing two points of view, and
    throwing in a number of suspenseful moments, where time seems to slow down. I would read
    this book, even if it may not seem interesting at first, eventually, you will get hooked.

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  • Posted December 5, 2010

    LOVED IT!!!!

    this book is a great historical fiction. very realistic love it

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2009

    Great Read!

    Great Story

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2008

    One of the best WWII storys ever

    Realy good how they use a niglected country in wwii korea

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted March 29, 2009

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    Posted March 29, 2009

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    Posted February 20, 2009

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    Posted January 5, 2012

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    Posted April 8, 2012

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    Posted November 25, 2013

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    Posted December 26, 2009

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