Lost Names: Scenes from a Korean Boyhood

Lost Names: Scenes from a Korean Boyhood

by Richard E. Kim

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In this autobiography, Richard E. Kim paints seven vivid scenes from a boyhood and early adolescence in Korea at the height of the Japanese occupation during WWII, 1932 to 1945. Taking its title from the grim fact that the occupiers forced the Koreans to renounce their own names and adopt Japanese names instead, the book follows one Korean family through the Japanese occupation to the surrender of Japan and dissolution of the Japanese empire. Examining the intersections of Japanese and Korean history that influenced Korea-Japan relations at the time, Lost Names is at once a loving memory of family, an ethnography of Zainichi Koreans in 1930s Japan, and a vivid portrayal of human spirit in a time of suffering and survival.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520948129
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 01/24/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 1,030,964
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Richard E. Kim (1932 - 2009) was a celebrated novelist, essayist, documentary filmmaker, and professor of literature at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Syracuse University, San Diego State University, and at Seoul National University. He was founder and president of Trans-Lit Agency, a literary agency devoted to establishing international copyright for works being published in Korea. His books include The Martyred (nominated for the National Book Award), The Innocent , and Lost Koreans in China and the Soviet Union: Photo Essays . He was recipient of the Ford Foundation Foreign Area Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Literary Fellowship.

Read an Excerpt

Lost Names

Scenes from a Korean Boyhood

By Richard E. Kim


Copyright © 1988 Richard E. Kim
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-94812-9



"... and the twilight, yes, the twilight," says my mother, closing her eyes for a moment. "The sun goes down quickly in the north, you know, especially in the winter." She pauses, remembering the twilight and the sunset in a small border town by Tuman River that separates northern Korea, Manchuria, and Siberia. 1933—I must have been only a year old. "Oh, but that twilight was glorious, almost awesome," says my mother. "It was windy that afternoon, and snow flurries were swirling and swishing around all over—over the shabby little town, the snow-covered railway station, the ice-capped mountains, the frozen river, the bridge, yes, the bridge which we had to cross but couldn't. Of course, I didn't see it all really until I was out of the train, until they took your father away from me, away from the train we were on." She stops again, as if to blot out that part of her remembrance —the Japanese Thought Policeman and the Japanese Military Policeman snatching away my father's papers and pushing him down the corridor and out of the train. She shakes her head slightlyand smiles. "And it wasso cold in the train. The steam heater wasn't working, not in our compartment anyway, and I had only thin socks on." Her thin cotton socks and her black patent leather shoes—and she is the only Korean woman in the compartment who wears Westernstyle clothes, has a baby, and has to watch, in tearful silence, her young husband being taken off the train by the Japanese.

And what was I doing? Asleep? Awake, wide awake—watching too. "And I almost wished you would start crying, and the Japanese would let your father alone so he could take care of me and you, but you didn't." She smiles. "We had been on the train almost all day, when it, at last, pulled into that railway station. The compartment was half-empty, cold, and there was a thick coat of ice on the windows, and you couldn't see out."

... the train gasps and puffs into the outer edge of the train yard, braking hard, slipping on the tracks. "Where are we?" my mother is asking, holding me up in her arms as the train jerks and lurches. "This is the last stop before the border," my father is saying, "this is the last Korean town before we get to Manchuria." Frozen windowpane crusted with sooty ice. My father scratching the pane with his thumbnail, thawing it with his breath, and clearing a round patch with his fingers, so my mother and I can look outside, so his young wife can look at the last town on the Korean side of the border, before they take leave of their homeland that is no longer their homeland. She watches the snow flurries whipping and gyrating madly outside, subsiding suddenly once in a while, and she can see nothing for a while, as the train crawls into the station. Then, the train is slinking in between other trains and flatcars, and she is staring at the big guns of the Japanese artillery and the tanks on the flatcars and, then, the horses of the Japanese cavalry peering out of their open stalls next to the flatcars, the horses' white breath mixing with the steam from the train, and, then, the Japanese soldiers in their compartments, all looking out, some in their undershirts and some with their jackets open, eating and drinking. She turns to my father and says:


My father looks out, turns to her, and nods.

It is then that a Japanese Thought Police detective and a Japanese Military Policeman come into the compartment. The detective is a middle-aged Korean who works for the Japanese; he is big and tall and wears a brown, dog-fur coat and a gray felt hat. The Japanese Military Policeman is not wearing an overcoat; he has on a brown leather belt with a big brass buckle, a pistol in a black leather holster, and a long saber that his white-gloved left hand clutches; he is young and short, with a flushed, boyish face; he is a corporal. "There were only about a dozen people in our compartment," says my mother, "and the detective took one look around and came straight to your father. He knew what he was up to. The Military Policeman followed right behind him, like a hunter following behind his hound, and all the Korean passengers were looking at us, all very quiet. When the detective came to our seat, he turned around to look at the other passengers, and they all snapped their heads away from us, and the detective nodded to the Japanese Military Policeman." She stops. "As if to say to the corporal, 'Well, we got him.'"

... and she is looking down at the snow-covered toes of the corporal's long, brown boots and the shiny toes of the detective's black shoes. The thin fingers of her young husband smoothing pieces of creased papers and holding them out, and the white-gloved hand of the corporal snatching them up. The papers crackle, and she thinks her husband's hand is trembling, not because he is afraid but because he is in poor health and weak; after all, he had been jailed by the Japanese for years for his resistance-movement activities, before she married him.... The corporal gives the papers to the detective and steps aside. His boots creak, and, as if on cue, the Korean detective says to her husband—my father—"So, you don't waste much time, do you? You could hardly wait to get out of the country."

My father is silent.

"Your parole was over only a week ago, and here you are sneaking out of the country."

"My papers are in order, as you can see," says my father, "and you must have had words about me from the police in my town."

"We know everything about you."

"Then you know I have official permission to travel."

"A piece of paper," says the detective.

"It is signed by the chief of police in my town and also by the Japanese judge of our district."

The detective folds the papers and stuffs them into his pocket. "What is the purpose of your travel?"

"It is stated in the papers."

"I am asking you a question."

"I have a job waiting for me."

"You couldn't get a job in the country?"

"I was a farmer," says my father. "I worked in my father's orchard."

"So—this high school is run by foreign missionaries. Do you have to work for foreigners?"

My mother thinks my father should say, "Look, you, too, are working for foreigners, as their hound." But my father says quietly, "It's a job."

"These missionaries—these foreign Christians—they feel sorry for you and give you a job and think they are protecting you from us?"

"It's a job; besides, I am a Christian," my father says and quickly glances at my mother. "And my wife is the daughter of a Christian minister, so it is natural that the foreign missionaries would want to hire me to teach."

"What do they want you to teach?"

"I am going to be teaching biology and chemistry."

The detective doesn't reply to that and looks at my mother.

My father says, "She will be teaching music at the school's kindergarten. It is all stated in the papers."

The detective says to my mother, "Is that a boy or a girl?"

I am all bundled up and wrapped in the wool blanket my grandmother made.

"A boy," says my mother. "He is only a year old."

My father says, "May I have the papers back?"

The detective says, "Do you understand Japanese?"

My father nods. "I don't speak it well."

The detective whispers something to the Japanese corporal. He turns to my father. "You must come with us."


"The Military Police want to ask you a few questions."

"About what?"

"How would I know! I don't work for the Military Police!"

"But I can't leave the train. It will go out soon."

"No, it won't move for a while. The military trains will have to cross the bridge first, and that will take a while. Come!" He says to my mother, "You stay here. He will be back soon."

She tries to stand up, gathering me up in her arms. My father tells her not to worry. "Stay here," he says. Tears well up in her frightened eyes, and her husband shakes his head. She nods and sits down, clutching me close to her. He moves out of the seat, and she picks up his woolen gloves and hands them to him. Then, they are gone from the compartment. She presses her face to the window, trying to see if she can catch a glimpse of him, trying to find out where they are taking him. But all that she can see is the Japanese military train that is right alongside her train. The military train is now creaking out of the station and, through the frozen windowpane, she sees blurred images of the Japanese guns, tanks, soldiers, and the horses that are passing by. At last, she can see across the snow-covered tracks to the dingy station house, just as my father and his inquisitors disappear into it. Her breath is clouding the windowpane, and a thin coat of ice quickly blots out her view. Scratching at the windowpane, she is trying to be brave, but she is afraid for her young husband and for herself, alone with the baby; she weeps silently, all the time thinking that she must do something. It is quiet in the compartment; the other passengers try not to look at her. A little later, the conductor comes in and begins to collect the tickets. She doesn't have her ticket; her husband has it. She looks up at the conductor, who is a Korean, and tries to explain but words do not come out. A young Korean boy, a high school boy, comes over and quickly explains the situation to the conductor, who nods in sympathy and tells her not to worry. The high school boy bows to her and shyly asks her the name of her husband. She tells him. The boy smiles triumphantly, knowingly.

"I heard his name mentioned by the detective, but I wanted to make sure," he says, glancing at the conductor, who is standing by awkwardly. The boy says to her, "I go to the same high school he went to in Seoul. Everyone at the school knows his name and about his trial and going to prison and all." He tells the conductor that my father is a patriot who, as a college student, organized a resistance movement against the Japanese and was arrested by the Japanese and spent years in prison. He tells the conductor the name of the trial case. The conductor says he has heard about it and turns to her. "He will be all right. Don't worry too much. It probably is just a routine questioning. This is a border town, you know, and, what with the war and all the disturbances going on across the river—well, the Japanese have been pretty strict about security."

The high school boy whispers, "Is it true that the Chinese and Korean troops across the river demolished a whole Japanese regiment a while ago?"

The conductor hushes the young boy but nods. "In June," he says. "The regiment from Nanam." He cuts the cold air with his gloved hand. "All of them." He says to the boy, "I would be quiet about it, though, if I were you."

"Yes, sir," says the boy.

Suddenly, the train lurches forward and begins to move.

The conductor says, "What's going on? We aren't sup posed to pull out for another hour!" He runs out of the compartment, saying, "I'll find out and let you know."

My mother, in panic, stands up, swaying. Quickly, she makes up her mind that she should get off the train. She gathers me up in her arms but doesn't know what to do with the two suitcases. The train slows down and stops. The boy says, "You can't get off the train! They wouldn't let the train go out without him. Trains can't go out without the Military Police's permission, you know."

But she is now determined. She should have followed her husband, she thinks, when they took him away. She is afraid, and she feels lost. She says to the boy, "I am going out."

The boy says, "The train is stopped now. Why don't you wait and see?"

The conductor runs into the compartment and shouts to everyone, "We'll be moving out in a minute!" He comes to her. "What are you going to do?"

"She wants to get off the train," says the boy.

"No, no! You mustn't!" says the conductor. "Look! I can tell the station clerk about your husband and have him tell your husband that you will be waiting for him across the river. He can join you there. There's another train coming in about two hours."

"That's a good idea," says the boy. "You can come with me and my mother and stay with us. We live right across the river. We can leave our address with the station clerk."

She doesn't answer. She quickly wraps me up tightly and is out of her seat.

The conductor says, "If you insist, then I'll take you to the station clerk who is a friend of mine. A Korean. It will be warm in his office, and you can wait there. Come."

She says to the boy, "Would you do me a favor? Would you mind taking these suitcases with you and leaving them at the station across the river?"

The conductor says, "I'll help him. We can leave them with the Chinese station master there."

She thanks them all and starts down the corridor.

Someone says, "Take care of yourself."

Outside, icy wind and snow flurries lash at her. Her shoes are quickly buried under the snow on the tracks. She covers my face with the blanket, trudging across the tracks toward the station house. The conductor is carrying a small bag for her. Before they clear the tracks and climb up an embankment, the train they just left clanks and begins to move. The conductor, helping her up the embankment, swears under his breath. "I can't come with you. I must run back to the train. Be careful now and tell the station clerk I sent you. I may see you both on the other side of the river." He leaps over the tracks and runs back to the moving train. Her words of thanks are lost in the wind. She is now standing on the platform, which is deserted, except for a Japanese Military Policeman who is flagging the train out. She looks at the train chugging out of the yard, and she can see the old conductor and the young boy standing on the step of the compartment she was in. They are waving to her. Tears run down her frozen cheeks, and she silently watches the train move across the bridge, across the river, toward Manchuria. She hugs me close and wipes away her cold tears, rubbing her face against the blanket that keeps me warm. She looks up, aware that the Japanese Military Policeman is watching her, and it is then that she, standing forlorn on the barren platform, sees that it is twilight.

The sun, big and red in spite of the snow flurries, is setting, plummeting down toward the frozen expanse of the northern Manchurian plains. "Twilight"—she thinks—"it is twilight," and, somehow, she forgets everything for a moment, lost in the awesome sight of the giant, red sun, which, as though burning out, is swiftly sinking and being swallowed up by the darkening northern horizon. The silvery snow flurries are dancing in the air, whishing and roaring, as if cleansing the lingering rays of the bloody sun from the northern sky.... The air is cool and fresh, and she prays, "Lord, help me."

The sun has disappeared. It is now dark. The wind has died down. My mother is still standing there alone on the platform. I am asleep in her arms. She is facing toward the bridge. She can't see it clearly now. Only the red lights on both sides of its entrance and its dim silhouette against the starry northern sky are visible. Occasionally, she looks back at the main door of the station house. She can see a small room to the right of the station house; it is lighted inside by a green-shaded lamp that dangles from the ceiling. Someone inside the room, hunched over a little potbellied stove, gets up once in a while and looks out the window. My father is somewhere in town at the Japanese Military Police Detachment. "Too far to walk," said a Korean man, a ticket clerk at the station. "Why don't you and the baby come inside and keep warm?" My mother said no—she would wait for her husband outside; he might come any moment. She waits.

How long did she stand there alone waiting for my father? An hour? Two hours? She doesn't know. She only knows that it is getting darker and darker and, now, she can't see even the silhouette of the bridge. Her feet, protected only by the thin cotton socks, are numb, and, without realizing it, she is rocking back and forth. I am now awake and begin to whimper; I am thirsty and hungry. My mother begins to pace, rocking me; she is weeping quietly, swallowing a big lump of irrepressible terror. She says to herself she can't cry, she mustn't cry, and she must be brave. Her father has been in jail, too, on and off, many times because he would say in his sermons things that the Japanese Thought Police did not like; and, of course, her husband....


Excerpted from Lost Names by Richard E. Kim. Copyright © 1988 Richard E. Kim. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface to the Fortieth Anniversary Edition
Once upon a Time, on a Sunday
Lost Names
An Empire for Rubber Balls
"Is Someone Dying?"
In the Making of History-Together
Author's Note

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