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Reviewed by:
  • Seven Contemporary Plays: From the Korean Diaspora in the Americas ed. by Esther Kim Lee
  • Heui-Yung Park (bio)
Seven Contemporary Plays: From the Korean Diaspora in the Americas, edited by Esther Kim Lee. Durham: Duke University Press, 2012. 360 pages, illustrations. $94.95 cloth, $26.95 paper.

Seven Contemporary Plays: From the Korean Diaspora in the Americas anthologizes for the first time plays solely by authors of the Korean diaspora and is thus a significant collection in their literary and composite art history. Editor Esther Kim Lee introduces seven works by providing a brief history of Koreans and the Korean diaspora in the twentieth century and outlining their late development in theater in the United States and Canada. The plays, mostly produced in the 2000s (except Edward Bok Lee's "History K," 1998) by second-generation diasporic writers from North and South America, depart from the often stereotypical success [End Page 155] stories of ethnic model minorities in America but explore various, somewhat under-represented lives of Koreans and their foreign-born or reared children.

Lee's "History K" tells a (hi)story of those victimized by the Korean War and the later invasion of U.S. forces through an unidentified, middle-aged prostitute living by a U.S. military base. Her vague nationality and location in the opening become apparent by such clues as the Pagoda Park, where her military night guest found a hat; the Korean name Hyegyung, "found in a tub drown of her own blood" (p. 18); and Hyundai cars running in the street. And the instant flashes of the prostitute's memories take us back to when "I read, a great deal now, more and more [. . .] before the war." The violation of her virgin body by a farmer, which meant "no going back, not after that, no, no going back to that, caught, in the fields, after that no going back, on his farm" (p. 12), points to her victimization as a young woman during the critical period of "History K," whose unsettled modern history has caused long-standing scars in the heart of vulnerable people like her.

The Los Angeles-born Julia Joe's "99 Histories" (2004) casts light upon the distant relationship between Korean immigrant parents and their American-born children. Their cultural and generational gap is crystallized by the concept of chŏng, which "doesn't make sense" (p. 42) to the daughter Eunice, who became pregnant by her Caucasian ex-boyfriend and reluctantly returns to her Korean mother, Sah-Jin, after years of absence. If the family's buried secrets, including their breadwinner's premature death at the hands of two customers at his store, have contributed to taking them apart, their ultimate sharing reveals their own pent-up pains and helps bring them together. Concurrently, Eunice comes to better understand chŏng, which includes mother's love and a series of "our" hitherto "Memory plus time" (p. 82). The different sides of the mother and daughter's stories that unfold in "99 Histories" suggest a range of elapsed accounts of the Korean diaspora that need to fill in to overcome their breach.

Similarly, Lloyd Suh's "American Hwangap" (2007) brings up issues of a broken diasporic family. Fifteen years ago the immigrant engineer Min Suk Chun, who has just turned sixty, lost his job and went back to Korea, leaving his wife Mary and three children—David, Esther, and Ralph. Although Chun's return to his family in Texas is occasioned by his hwangap, the special sixtieth-birthday ritual that signifies one's longevity and rebirth in Korea, he is not welcomed by David and Esther: David, currently working in New York as an investment banker, does not visit home for the event; Esther comes home only to please Mary but avoids [End Page 156] talking to her father. Yet, that "Chun Min Suk life was not in Korea, was here [America], Mommy here, David, Esther and [. . ..]" (p. 99) reveals his ultimate belonging "here" with them. Chun's marriage proposal to Mary to re-start their life together hints at the possible reunion and rebirth of the Korean diasporic family.

The Korean Canadian Jean Yoon's "Hongbu...