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Reviewed by:
  • Michael Molasky (bio)
Lamentation as History: Narratives by Koreans in Japan, 1965-2000. By Melissa L. Wender. Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2005. xiii, 252 pages. $50.00, cloth; $19.95, paper.

Surely I'm not the only Japan scholar who has eagerly awaited the publication in English of a book devoted to Zainichi bungaku, literature in Japanese by writers of Korean descent. In Lamentation as History, Melissa Wender offers thoughtful readings of both lesser-known zainichi authors and of prominent novelists, from Ri Kaisei to Yu Miri and Kaneshiro Kazuki. Throughout her study, Wender integrates careful analyses of literary texts into discussions of contemporary critical debates and grass-roots movements involving Japan's zainichi community. She also devotes considerable attention to relevant legal battles waged in Japan's courts over the past half-century and provides ample historical background for nonspecialists. In her own words, "This book focuses on literary works . . . that propose and produce identities that counter the hegemonic ideology of the Japanese nation"; at the same time, she seeks to demonstrate that "this literature is important because it has worked in a symbiotic relationship with political discourse [End Page 255] and action, often through the legal system, to effect a change in this community's legal status as defined by the postwar Japanese state" (pp. 13–14). It is this broad scope, combined with Wender's eschewal of narrow literary debates, that is likely to make Lamentation as History of interest to scholars from various disciplines, whether they work primarily on Japan, Korea, or minority populations in other social contexts.

One theoretical problem that inevitably confronts members of minority communities as well as those who write about them is the burden of representation, by which I refer to the tacit and facile expectation that the given individual or work must embody or represent the totality of "the minority experience." Although this desire to identify a coherent, shared minority experience is understandable, it often compels those writing about minority communities—whether they write as insiders or outsiders—to efface differences of class, gender, generation, sexuality, regional origin, etc., in favor of a single, salient form of difference. This problem is nothing new: African American writers such as Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin confronted it whenever they put pen to paper, and many of the writers addressed in the present study have wrestled with the tenuous and multifaceted nature of "zainichi identity" while nonetheless acknowledging its ongoing utility as a reference for social experience.

To her credit, Wender is sensitive to this problem, and this is especially evident in her treatment of zainichi women. Addressing these women's dual oppression by both Japanese society and zainichi men, she further probes into how other differences—particularly of class, generation, and (Japanese) city of origin—shape the views of these women. Wender's account of the iconic value accorded Osaka's Ikaino neighborhood by both insiders and outsiders is informative in this regard: "some people believe that to be really zainichi, you must be from Ikaino and speak a fluent Osaka dialect" (p. 91). She further notes that Ikaino is often construed as a gendered social space in which middle-aged or older women predominate. To the extent that the zainichi experience has been marked by conflicting impulses to embrace and escape one's Korean heritage, or "Mother Korea," Ikaino would seem to spatially embody this ambivalence, serving as a magnet with the power to simultaneously attract and repel. (Wender notes that Ikaino no longer officially exists on municipal maps; one might add that the same is true of Tokyo's San'ya area, although both remain prominent places in their respective cities and in the nation's social imaginary.)

If the geographical space of Ikaino serves as a popular reference for understanding zainichi identity, then the wide range of narratives—both literary and legal—that Wender examines form the discursive ground from which competing zainichi identities have been forged. Wender pursues the concept of identity "as something that people construct through the telling of individual histories" (p. 24), and she reveals how fiction writers and literary scholars have played a surprisingly active role in shaping...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1549-4721
Print ISSN
0095-6848
Pages
pp. 255-259
Launched on MUSE
2007-02-08
Open Access
No
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