New finds in UW Tacoma’s lofty stacks (amid the scent of coffee in the nostrils thick, thinking of oneself or the other as the dedicatee of various works, the heft of books in the hand, communion of silence broken and gladly so by Latino technicians with new chairs in a library which is already new, glass museums squiggle through the mist, a fleeting thought of crayons and joss paper is dismissed, and greenery lies munching soil, inexorably, in the Northwest):
1. Samuel Hawley, ed., Inside the Hermit Kingdom – This scholar caught hell for his ginormous history of the Imjin War in Korean Studies journals (too many English sources, apparently?), but he just keeps pumping it out, to his great credit: The present 1884 diary is published by an offshoot of Rowman & Littlefield; its author, George Clayton Foulk, treks all over Korea in that consequential year. Somehow everytime I read lines like “The cause is not yet lost. I want to get to Seoul quick to see our Minister” (p. 151), I get a little jealous stab when numbers were so much fewer, there was no such thing as a terrorist attack, and one could saunter up to a consulate/embassy in Seoul and have a nice conversation with a Western diplomat who had only months before been hanging out in the White House with Millard Fillmore.
If anyone is aware of a website or an article compiling the data, even just bibliographical, of similar sources (e.g. Western travel memoirs) from eastern Manchuria, northern Choson, and Mount Paektu/Changbaishan, please do inform!
2. Michael Harrold, Comrades and Strangers is a 2004 memoir of years and years spent in the DPRK as a translator for Kim Il Sung’s works. If I or my colleagues were able to carve out the time, this might make a decent, informal, and accessible addition to a course about the contemporary DPRK. Harrold also spins a couple of threads about Kim Jong Suk, the mother of Kim Jong Il, about whom I have been cultivating a small but growing interest since picking up her rather fractious official biography from my Yanji bookseller.
3. Christopher Bluth, Korea (Hot Spots in Global Politics, UK, 2008). Just dreadful, drop this thing immediately! May as well just put on a tape loop of IAEA IAEA IAEA Inspectors REPEAT and go to sleep. Although, since Keith Howard (one of my scholarly idols for his work on Korean music) gives it a nice blurb on the back…the bibliography is potentially useful.
4. Andrei Lankov, From Stalin to Kim-Il Sung: The Formation of North Korea, 1945-1960. Everything about this book is interesting and I feel the need to revisit and get the old database trimmed and fighting. Used in a few current manuscripts; come to think of it, pretty much everything Andrei Lankov does is, to put it subtely, an instant classic. I would imagine that Chuck Kraus, rooted in China at the moment, has similar sentiments about this work. I don’t believe I have ever had the priviledge of sitting in the same room with Lankov, Charles Armstrong and Gregg Brazinsky, but one can always aspire to such moments.
Lankov’s humorous ass-kicking of the rest of us in terms of first-hand knowledge, as well as foresight, is available as streaming audio and in transcript form via the US Institute of Peace. Andrei, you are a Rock Star!
5. Glyn Ford with Soyoung Kwon, North Korea on the Brink: Struggle for Survival. London/Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2008. Oh great antidote! Completed in July 2007, this book is beautifully organized, chock full of original and interesting photographs, and serves as a probably-indespensible guide to contemporary North Korea. The prose is pithy, the ackronyms light, the graphic design nimble, the perspective European, the expertise needed. I don’t know if Cumings’ previous assertions about how no one knows anything about North Korea, or willfull ignorance about the DPRK, hold up if more folks read this (and a few other texts). Hope to have more analysis on Ford’s text in the future, and welcome links to its ongoing discussion.
6. John Feffer, North Korea/South Korea: U.S. Policy at a Time of Crisis. Feffer is only, only, a very reasonable person with a wealth of knowledge whose expertise on the macro-level is truly needed. But he isn’t afraid to throw a few firebombs into his prose…The conclusion to this text begins with the wonderfully incendiary phrase “The missionaries are greedily eyeing North Korea.” Footnotes are solid and his grasp is sound. And besides that, this is a good-looking book.
On an extraneous side note, you know John Feffer is a good guy because he works with the Quakers (I was introduced to his stuff via the Howells in Athens, Ohio) and he also has friends all over the world; Glenn, for instance, is a fascinating colleague of John’s and a developer of historical board games for American kids, who I ran into a Starbucks last summer (where I go for the air conditioning, ice cubes, and clean air) in the Shijie Shichang on the south side of Beijing. People like Glenn and John listen really carefully when you talk, and then they devise ways to help you out and promote peace. As my friends in Brooklyn would say, “You gotta problem wid’dat?” Peace-makers are tough!
7. Various volumes on Koreans in Japan (Sonia Ryang, ed.). Occasionally I have a student who is just completely into this topic. And Tessa Morris-Suzuki’s Exodus to North Korea seems to be priming the pump further. I don’t have the expertise, but a course on North Korean-Japanese relations, or some kind of a summer study tour, would seem to be a great opportunity for certain students to delve into that relationship. And besides, Megumi’s mom has published her memoir in English (coming soon to a library near me?) and Koizumi’s 2002 trip has got fodder upon fodder and the issues cloud up the 6-party talks….