The Birth of Korean Cool is one of the few books I could actually see my students reading from cover to cover. It was the perfect summer read before my trip to Korea last year, and I enjoyed it so much that I decided to pick it up once again to revisit some of the topics it lightheartedly presents. It is also a book that I have found myself referencing in my junior high and high school art classes throughout the year as we examine the role of pop culture in the development of the arts.
Euny Hong was twelve years old when her parents decided to move back to Seoul after living in the Chicago suburbs for nearly two decades. Her father had been party of the post-war brain drain which Korea was then trying to reverse. After years of trying to break down stereotypes as an Asian-American, the author found herself in the midst of a society rooted in Confucian traditions and an educational system that could not be farther from the one she experienced in the Midwest.
Her story does an excellent job of breaking down a number of very interesting topics, from kimchi and K-pop to the differences between North Korean and South Korean women, presenting them in a witty, conversational manner that is easy for a reader with very little knowledge of the ever-changing geopolitical situation to understand. Full of irony and satire, readers will find themselves laughing out loud at the personal situations the author shares (teen speed dating elevator-style), yet one walks away from this book feeling as if they have learned a great deal about the subtle and not-so-subtle intricacies of Korean social norms.
The only hesitation one may have in assigning this book as a class read are a few excerpts about the Korean drinking culture and some colorful language here and there. Chapters of this book could be used as stand-alone readings that would provide a insightful look into the soft politics of exporting pop culture and the role that the government has played in this rags-to-riches story. With its candid examination of the past and predictions for a bright future, The Birth of Korean Cool is definitely a story worth sharing.