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  • Haunting the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy, and the Forgotten War
  • Hyeon Ju Lee (bio)
Haunting the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy, and the Forgotten War, by Grace M. Cho. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. 232 pp., photographs. $67.50 cloth; $22.50 paper.

Deeply personal and emotional, Haunting the Korean Diaspora is a pastiche of traumatic memories generated by the Korean War. Sometimes known as the Forgotten War in U.S. history, the unresolved traumas from the unfinished war haunt the violated and the progeny in temporal and spatial distance. Intertwined with sociological approaches, the book brings out an ugly past—violations against women, civilians, and, unknowingly, agains the soldiers who fought during the Korean War—that had been erased from history in a beautifully woven dreamwork.

Cho artfully begins the book by presenting the lack of historical memory of the past. Some personal, others collective, the unspeakable pasts of the women who were involved in the sex industry during the volatile modern history of Korea are discussed in the beginning. Cho introduces "An Uncertain Beginning" of her own family history in her narrative boxes that indicates her personal stories that are intertwined with the histories of Korean American families whose immigration is tightly connected with the Korean War. Then Cho states the term, yanggongju (broadly, women in the sex industry around the camp towns in Korea), the very word she was not allowed to know or speak in her family, and situates the ghost that haunts the Korean diaspora in the United States.

The following chapters of the book develop into more than just the hardships of Korean women around camp towns. The stories unravel circumstances and tragic incidents that led women to seek employment in those areas. Historically situated circumstances of young Korean women in a war-torn country give much needed perspectives on women who were shunned in the very country they were trying to save and serve.

The author attempts to bring out the invisible and give voice to inaudible subjects. As a daughter of a Korean immigrant who married a U.S. serviceman, Cho searches for answers to the silenced history of herself, [End Page 164] and, ultimately, the history of Korean female immigrants to the United States. This book is a quest for hidden secrets that were buried in the hearts of thousands of Korean women (and civilians) whose personal sacrifices and hardships were erased from the public consciousness and became whitewashed in the form of international marriages, which connotes romantic love that overcomes national barriers. Historically erased stories of violence against civilians in the southeastern provinces, such as Nogŭn-ri, bridges that were bombed, daughters and women of the village raped by the same soldiers who gave them food and goods are unraveled as unspoken traumas.

Utilizing psychoanalysis, literary analysis, and autoethnography, the book is a rendition of multiple, fragmented stories of the "unconscious" that Cho tries to awaken. However, uncovering what is forgotten and unconscious is not an easy task in a form of academic writing that calls for proof and tangible data. Throughout the book, she engages various authors of the theories she applied, including authors of fiction, to enable the "unconscious" stories to be cognitively recognized. She calls these stories "unconscious" as they have been deliberately forgotten by the very individuals who have experienced the violence of the war, of the state, and the imperialist regime and by the public who wanted to look forward and forget about the painful past. The author's efforts to engage academic authorities in her sentences leave an impression that she is trying too hard to make the book academically salient.

The book's merit lies in its courage to speak what had been considered unspeakable, to draw out the forgotten past into the public's consciousness. The book contains horrific stories of mutilated bodies of innocent civilians after bombing of villages, women violently abused by their American husbands, and unspoken pasts that haunt the families of "international" marriages in the United States. Despite the horrific images the stories render, the author's matter-of-fact tone of narration throughout the book makes moving through the pages easier. Many of the...