June 10, 2011
Lost Names: Scenes From A Korean Boyhood by Richard E. Kim is an autobiographical fictionalization of the author’s youth in Japanese occupied Manchuria. Though not a traditional autobiography, the author tells his own story through the eyes of a nameless young man. The story takes place between 1932 and 1945. The young man grows and changes from the start of the novel to the end and meditates on the nature of war, family, duty and education among other things. However, the most important aspect of the novel is the way in which it portrays the Japanese occupation and the state of the main character’s family as a result of it.
The novel begins with the recollections of the narrator’s mother of their family’s relocation by the Japanese. The mother, father and infant narrator are traveling by train to their new home when the Japanese request to see the father’s papers. They remove him from the train and the mother is left alone with the baby. She exits the train and waits stubbornly in the cold for her husband’s return. He eventually shows up but is beaten and bruised. The family then makes an icy trek across a frozen lake to their new home.
At this point in the novel, the narrator is preparing to start second grade at the local school. It is very clear early on that the Japanese and Korean rivalry permeates every aspect of these characters lives. At the school, the teachers are a mix of Japanese and Korean. There is also a mix of students. The main character’s grandfather stresses to him that he “must do better than the Japanese at the school.”
This rivalry is due to the fact that both cultures have a strong sense of ethnocentrism. Conflict arises due to the fact that both groups find themselves superior to one another. However, the Japanese hold all governmental power, so there is a sort of legal ethnocentrism in play. The children are taught to speak Japanese at school, the...