Yoo, Theodore Jun. The Koreas: The Birth of Two Nations Divided. Oakland: University of California Press, 2020. ix + 328 pages, Hardcover, $35.64..

Date01 August 2021
AuthorRuiter, Brian de

The Koreas: The Birth of Two Nations Divided is an engaging survey of the political, social and cultural history of North and South Korea following the Second World War. Theodore Jun Yoo explores the effects the Korean War has had on North and South Korea, and the divergent trajectories and identities both countries adopted due to internal policies, Cold War politics and international relations. The book is divided into seven chapters, with each one loosely structured around a decade beginning with the 1950s, while the Epilogue explores the film Burning, recent developments in the Koreas and issues that still confront the two countries. Yoo uses the Introduction to discuss his family's history, which helps set the stage for a broader discussion later in the book on government policies, diasporic Korean communities and movements across national borders that have occurred within the last seventy years. Such a discussion highlights Yoo's contention that these movements have "challenged the master narratives of national culture, homogeneity, belongingness, and identity" (p. 10). But aside from the movement of bodies, Yoo also explores the effects foreign culture and goods have had on Korean culture and society (including sections on diet and tastes as cornmeal and instant coffee entered South Korea from American sources). However, Yoo is quick to show that the flow of culture has been multidirectional, as the Koreas, particularly the South, have exported their culture to an interested global community.

The Koreas is designed to introduce a general audience to a variety of pertinent issues in the two countries, including, but not limited to, mental health, globalization, marginalization, gender, homosexuality, juche ideology, democratization, and human rights. To familiarize those who lack a background on Korean history, Yoo presents a timeline of some key events. Yoo weaves together a tapestry of the different lives affected by colonialism, religion, war, Cold War politics, globalization, and domestic policies. This focus on individuals helps Yoo achieve one of his goals: to "humanize" Korean history. For example, Yoo outlines the life of Korean artist Yi Jungseop to demonstrate the effects war, colonialism and the Cold War have had on "the individual and the collective scale" (p. 29). Yoo utilized an assortment of scholarly sources, memoirs, fictional literature, news articles and films to elucidate his points, and hoped his use of short...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT