Book Review : Korea Unmasked

Korea Unmasked – In Search of the country, the society and the people
Won-bok RHIE
Translated by Jung UN and Louis CHOI

Gim Young International
14.900₩ / 28.11$

For most European people, South Korea is a country ‘over there’, but it’s not really clear what it’s about. South Korea is quite similar to Japan and China, yet undermined by its infamous brother: North Korea. Don’t pretend otherwise: you think – or have thought – that. Korea Unmasked may be an entertaining way to dispel these clichés. It begins with the simplest things. “People say neighboring countries England, France and Germany are very different. But look… Their people believe in the same God and Jesus Christ. They all use the same letters, the alphabet. They all use forks and knives. The three East Asian countries, on the other hand, don’t even share these basic traits.”

The book is an easy read; Korea Unmasked is a comic strip with funny little characters, but this is not children reading material. Indeed, the subjects approached in the book are not for little kids. You will learn why Christianism was implanted successfully in South Korea, unlike in Japan and China. You will learn why South and North Korea are still officially at war, and why reunification is not meant to happen quite soon. You will learn of the dissociation between the youth and their parents.

Of course, this is not meant to be the one source which will enable you to know everything about South Korea. Won-bok Rhie speaks of a topic he obviously knows, his people. But the political ideas defended in the second part of Korea Unmasked are those of one person. And this person is South Korean through and through. Therefore, some of his explanations include generalizations and national categorizing. Even that quote, stating the French, English and German believe in the same “God and Jesus Christ” can be overturned easily. It fails to precise that while France is mainly a Catholic land, German hails Protestantism and England has their very own Anglican faith.

These generalizations would be the reason why he was criticized for potential anti-Semitism. I won’t be as condemning; Won-bok Rhie is a professor of graphic design, not a sociologist. He can’t be expected to have the sociologist or politologist elegance – a trait which becomes obvious when he speaks of North Korea. Yet, most of his explanations are extremely reachable vulgarization and give a good first plunge into the Korean mind, both as person and as a national identity.

A comic-strip, then, but one must read with their mind open and ready to question and criticize what Won-bok Rhie writes. But an enriching read nonetheless.

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