Who Ate Up All the Shinga?: An Autobiographical Novel
Park Wan-suh is a best-selling and award-winning writer whose work has been widely translated and published throughout the world. Who Ate Up All the Shinga? is an extraordinary account of her experiences growing up during the Japanese occupation of Korea and the Korean War, a time of great oppression, deprivation, and social and political instability. Park Wan-suh was born in 1931 in a small village near Kaesong, a protected hamlet of no more than twenty families. Park was raised believing that "no matter how many hills and brooks you crossed, the whole world was Korea and everyone in it was Korean." But then the tendrils of the Japanese occupation, which had already worked their way through much of Korean society before her birth, began to encroach on Park’s idyll, complicating her day-to-day life. With acerbic wit and brilliant insight, Park describes the characters and events that came to shape her young life, portraying the pervasive ways in which collaboration, assimilation, and resistance intertwined within the Korean social fabric before the outbreak of war. Most absorbing is Park’s portrait of her mother, a sharp and resourceful widow who both resisted and conformed to stricture, becoming an enigmatic role model for her struggling daughter. Balancing period detail with universal themes, Park weaves a captivating tale that charms, moves, and wholly engrosses. (Amazon)
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Columbia University Press
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Must read on Korea in the mid-20th century
Park Wan-Suh’s intriguing coming-of-age story, Who Ate Up All the Shinga? concisely describe the experiences of a young girl growing into a woman with a backdrop of the changes in mid-20th century Korea. The story begins in Pakchok Hamlet, a small rural community that Park viewed as an idyllic place. As an orphaned younger sister of the first son of the family, she is spoiled by her grandfather and allowed to roam freely through the countryside. However, her mother sees Seoul as a place of greater opportunity and moves her daughter to the bustling city. Park is shocked to find that the country status she so valued in Pakchok Hamlet is actually a mark of disdain in the city. Intent on improving the lives of her children, Park’s mother sews to support the family. Gradually, the reader comes to realize the story takes during the Japanese occupation of Japan, World War II, and the Korean War. As Park matures and the status of the Korean people becomes more tenuous, the reader feels the pain and confusion of the instability and horror of war. Although this is is not a blatantly political story, the traumatic events of colonization, independence, separation, and war are on the periphery of Park’s awareness but deeply impact her family’s fortune. Readers who enjoy memoirs and personal narratives should enjoy this book. More importantly, students of history and global politics would be well-served reading this account of the many ways that the insecurity wrought by conflict serve to shape individuals and, in turn, society.