Table of Contents / Sample Articles

EAA 4:2, Fall 1999


Lost Names: Scenes From A Korean Boyhood

Lost Names is a useful, rare, and wonderful book for several reasons. The book’s title reflects the Japanese Pacific War policy of forcing Koreans to replace their own names with Japanese ones. Lost Names is the story, as recounted by a young boy, of one Korean family’s experience during the war years. Although Lost Names is technically a novel, according to author Richard Kim, " . . . all the characters and events described in the book are real, but everything else is fiction." Never in my time in Asian Studies has one work been so applicable to such a wide range of students as is the case with Lost Names.

In the pages that follow, we feature an interview by EAA editorial board member Kathy Masalski with Richard E. Kim and essays by a junior high, senior high school, and university instructor on how they have used Lost Names as a highly effective teaching tool. We sincerely hope this special feature encourages teachers at all levels to read Lost Names and consider using it with students.

Lucien Ellington

Lost Names


Kathleen Woods Masalski

Kathleen Woods Masalski — I first met Richard Kim in 1994 when I asked him to speak at a National Endowment for the Humanities summer institute on the War in the Pacific. The audience responded so well that I invited him to speak at several other summer institutes sponsored by the Five College Center for East Asian Studies. After reading Peter Wright’s, Susan Mastro’s, and Dick Minear’s essays about their teaching of Lost Names, I asked Lucien if he would be interested in an interview with Kim. Lucien had read the book and read the essays (Kim did not ask to see them before publication), and urged me to proceed. Kim agreed to get together with me on May 18 in Amherst, Massachusetts.

I presented him with a list of questions that I had prepared. The interview lasted three hours; I took copious notes and wrote them up immediately afterward. Although I suggested that he edit the final interview, Kim declined. What follows are selected passages from our discussion that afternoon.

I should note that I approach Lost Names as history, and my questions reflect my background as a history teacher. An English teacher would have asked different questions. Lost Names is first and foremost creative writing. Social studies teachers may well wish to introduce the book to their colleagues in the English or Language Arts departments.


Masalski: One question the audience always has about Lost Names is whether it is fiction or nonfiction. Do you really intend to tell readers that nothing in Lost Names is "factual" or "historical"? How much of what is in it actually happened? How much actually happened to you?

Kim: Everything in the book actually happened. It happened to me. So why am I always insisting it’s not autobiographical? I think because of the way I used the things that actually happened. You have to arrange them, mix them up. Above all, it’s interpretation of facts, of actual events—some thirty or forty years later. For example, when "the boy" gets beaten, what went through his mind? We don’t know. . . . even I don’t know. I like to separate the actual events from the emotional, the psychological. One shouldn’t confuse the actual events with the inner events. That’s where a lot of beginning writers make a big mistake. A lot think everything is exactly as it happened; but we put our own interpretation on events. I didn’t invent any actual events. . . . but everything else is fiction. That is very important to me.

Richard Kim

Masalski: When you wrote the book in 1970, how did you go about gathering evidence? Or didn’t you?

Kim: I didn’t have to gather much. I made a chronology of actual political events and a chronology of events in my life. Then I rearranged . . . I had to rearrange the events in my life. I think that the private events happened at the time [I described them] . . . but maybe not. The big world events happened . . . [the question was] how to bring them together . . . .
The original plan for this book was different from what it turned out to be. Praeger planned a series of books on different countries, Japan, China, India, Korea, etc. to introduce these countries to American children. I decided to introduce Korea through family life. As soon as I started writing, the book took on a different life. I called my editor and said, "I can’t do it the way it was planned." She said, "What is your idea for the book?" and I said I didn’t know. She said, "Let it loose, let it go." I had already listed many details, for example, what we typically ate for breakfast, because I was using that information to introduce what Koreans eat. When I finished writing (it took me only three months), we took a look at the manuscript. It was not what the editors had in mind, but they liked it. They took the work out of the country series and decided to publish it separately. But, they wondered, how should they treat it? They sent the manuscript to Pearl Buck, and she praised it as a novel. But Praeger didn’t want a novel. So they convinced her to call it something else. [She called it "the best piece of creative writing I have read about Korea."] So Praeger decided to just get it out . . . to let others decide. And the reviews were good. [Edward] Seidensticker reviewed it for the New York Times and Praeger breathed a sigh of relief.

Masalski: You were a boy of thirteen or fourteen when the book—and the war—ended. What do you remember of your feelings then? Now, fifty-plus years later, how have your feelings changed?

Kim: I don’t feel differently about things today. I feel the same as when they happened. My father was in a detention camp, so I didn’t jump up and down for joy. Rather, I felt that finally it’s happened. Something that should have happened happened.
I didn’t have feelings of hatred for the Japanese. My feelings were more of contempt. I despised, had contempt for [them]. . . . In a perverse sort of way, I had a feeling of superiority. It was a defense mechanism to think, "Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do." This may be a cultural, a class thing. I felt the Japanese were not to be trusted or respected. It might have been different in Seoul, but not in my small town. The Japanese we dealt with were not very good. After all, who would go to a dinky town, a dinky province, if they had a choice?
I [didn’t] think of the Korean characters as saintly, but as ordinary. In those days there was no room for cynicism. Everything seemed clear cut. We knew where we were and where we stood. Today is different; I don’t know where I stand. I don’t know what to think. . . . in those days I knew. Them and us. Cynicism comes from self-doubt. There was no room for that sort of thing.
When the Japanese priest and his wife [who lived nearby] came [when the end of the war was announced] and begged that we protect them, my grandfather didn’t know what to do. . . . I didn’t know what to do. . . . We went back to the source of authority. . . . do what your father would have done. The tenant farmer, too, kept telling me that my father would have protected them. . . .
Actually, my father was a saint. I wrote an inscription on his gravestone, "He was a good man and just." He was like that—truly. I never heard him say anything bad about anyone. I never saw him enraged. I’m not like him. . . . He had a great capacity for suppressing his feelings; he was patient.
If I had been exposed to constant hatred at home, maybe I would have felt differently about Japan and the Japanese. But I wasn’t. Grandfather never said much. And I never heard my father say nasty things verbally. We thought, they’re bad ones. . . . so why should we waste our time talking about them. . . .

If the Japanese had been victorious, if the war had lasted another four or five years, maybe most Koreans would have become "Japanized."

Masalski: What difference to Lost Names does it make that you and your family were well-to-do and Christian?

Kim: This is a very important question. We were upper-middle class, the town’s elite. The Japanese who were there were not. We saw them as men who couldn’t get jobs in Tokyo. "Why are they here?" we asked ourselves. As colonizers, they were supposed to be better than the colonized, but a lot of Japanese were simply not that great. It’s a cultural, a class thing. I didn’t hate them. They were like dangerous dogs to be avoided.
Although we were not that wealthy, we were reasonably well-to-do. In those days we were made to look upper class because we went to college. The Christian thing is tricky. I’ve been thinking about it. Some really well-to-do Koreans, especially in the South—even among my generation—sometimes the Japanese treated them like upper class, with kid gloves. Made them feel better, like the aristocracy, the ruling class, the landlord class. Made them feel as if they were treated with respect. To this day I know people with backgrounds like this who are without anti-Japanese feelings.
The lower classes—what did they care if they were governed by the Japanese or a Korean dynasty? They were treated the same. My grandfather told me that one time, when he witnessed royalty passing by, he saw someone miserably beaten because he didn’t bow low enough. And he (my grandfather) felt that when the dynasty perished, well, it served the royalty right.
I don’t know how much of a sense of nationalism existed at the time of Japanese annexation. As long as the upper classes kept their money and status, and as long as the Japanese left them alone, what difference did it make? And what difference did it make to the peasants—both Korean royalty and the Japanese took eighty percent of their crops, regardless. If the Japanese had been victorious, if the war had lasted another four or five years, maybe most Koreans would have become "Japanized."
I think it was the middle class, the upper-middle class who were affected most by the war. That group produced more educated people, those with expanded consciousness.
To the Japanese, the Christians were the ones with the most connections with the West—simply because they were Christians. They were therefore characterized as outsiders, as dangerous. They were an important minority because they were upper-middle class. They sent their sons to schools and colleges. So as a group they were more conscious of national identity. I don’t think the upper or lower classes thought about nationalism or independence, but I really don’t know. The early uprisings were not organized by the upper classes. In those days [during the war], memories were fresh. Twenty–thirty years later, I don’t know. . . .
Belonging to that class and being Christian made all the difference. We were more aware of where we belonged. I grew up thinking we were a little different. Lost Names would be a different book if it were written by someone else at the same time but in a different class and in a different place.
The book is not representative of "the Korean experience." I was a marked boy. Somehow the village had voted me most likely to succeed, because I was my father’s son. My grandfather, the minister, was one of the best-known leaders of the Christian community. Most Christians knew my grandfather’s name. The first day back in a Korean school, things were very tense for me. My parents wondered, how would he (I) be received—both by the Japanese and the town’s kids. I always had to be conscious of what I was. The key was "do not disgrace the family."

One exception I take is to anyone who says it’s (Lost Names) anti-Japanese. It’s not; there are some bad Japanese characters in the book, but it is not anti-Japanese.

Masalski: In your opinion, has the Japanese government apologized to the Korean people for its treatment of them during the occupation period?

Kim: I’m not so sure they’ve apologized. Regret, maybe. But that’s beside the point. I don’t really care if any government apologizes. It’s probably a political thing, anyway. It seems to me that Asians are less capable than Europeans of accepting collective responsibility for their actions. Maybe the Judeo-Christian culture has more possibilities for atonement and redemption. Not so true for Asians. Why is it so difficult for Asians or Koreans to say we are all guilty? We tend to say, "I didn’t do it."

Masalski: The title of the book is problematic—in all three languages. Why did you choose it? What was your intent?

Kim: I loved the word "lost" and all the things that it conjures up, especially in English. Paradise Lost. Lost is almost damned. . . . almost sinful. Lost Souls (which was at one point my working title). I like "lost" because it has a lot to do with my sense of my generation. Kind of like I am now. I don’t belong. Born in Korea. Moved to Manchuria. Back to the north [Korea]. Then to South Korea. Didn’t belong either place. Then to the military, where I didn’t belong. To here. For awhile I thought about it, then I gave up thinking about it, for it’s not important. Especially my generation of Koreans happened to be between periods. . . . Japanese occupation . . . a little of that . . . then the country was divided. . . . then exodus . . . lost again. Led a refugee’s life . . . lost again . . . then ended up here in god-forsaken Shutesbury with a name like Richard. . . .
My college dean in this country thought that other students would have difficulty pronouncing my Korean name, so we looked at names in a telephone book. I chose Richard because I knew of Richard the Lion-Hearted. I finally had it legalized. I like to think it fits with my character . . . it’s how I think of myself. I’m lost, lost between two cultures, two worlds, neither North or South Korea, not Korean or American. I felt that way always, even as a little kid. I couldn’t even sing Korean songs. . . .
This has been one of my missions in life, to teach Koreans to accept responsibility for their lives, to stop blaming others, the Japanese, the Chinese. We lost it. . . . but many Koreans would like to think someone grabbed it. . . . thinking this justifies hatred. I’ve often said that Koreans need a national psychotherapy session, a large couch. Why are we as we are, why is self-examination such a rare commodity in Korean life? Koreans are so good about blaming others . . . they know so little about what they have done. They lack a collective sense of guilt or action.
Koreans can’t say we were careless, we dropped our names, and someone else picked them up and took them away. What the Japanese did was terrible—perhaps more stupid than terrible. How can such smart people do such dumb things? Didn’t they see that what they did would cause more resentment?

Masalski: One of the most important scenes in the book takes place in a graveyard, where all your known ancestors are buried. You, your grandfather, and your father visit that burial ground after the Japanese have given you new names, Japanese names. Your grandfather says, "We are a disgrace to our family. We bring disgrace and humiliation to your name. How can you forgive us?" He and your father bow, their tears flowing (p. 111). . . . Will you explain that scene?

Kim: My father felt that his generation had failed. (Maybe that’s why there isn’t naked hatred of the Japanese.) The kind of man he was resulted in his asking, "What have we done? How could we have allowed this to happen?" I don’t think he blamed grandfather’s generation. My father had a perfect right to fly into a rage, but there was none of that. "The important thing," my father said, "is now how can we deal with this? Someday your generation will forgive us." Why otherwise would he have taken me to the graveyard where he and my grandfather asked their ancestors to forgive them? He was almost telling me that one day we would have to forgive his generation.

Masalski: Were you surprised by the book’s reception? By the way readers (then and now) interpret it? Is there a difference?

Kim: It has been a surprise. It’s especially a great honor to find it’s read in so many schools. I really feel good about that. I have no way of influencing how readers take it, however. One exception I take is to anyone who says it’s anti-Japanese. It’s not; there are some bad Japanese characters in the book, but it is not anti-Japanese.
I wrote it quickly—between books. I had some legal problems with my second book and decided to do something with the Praeger series. It started out as one thing and ended up another. So I was very surprised.

Masalski: When they finish reading Lost Names, how do you want readers to feel toward the characters and the countries represented?

Kim: When I wrote the book, I didn’t feel that I wanted the reader to feel this way or that. I really didn’t think about writing for a foreign audience. I never thought about any audience, in fact.

Masalski: What led to the rebirth of Lost Names? How much did the 50th anniversary of World War II have to do with it?

Kim: I was willing to let it go, but the time came when Asian studies programs here and there realized that there’s not enough material around. The talk was taken up on the Internet, and there you are. I don’t think it had anything to do with the anniversary of the war.

Masalski: What do you think the book has become?

Kim: I don’t know. A textbook. I’ll tell you . . . when The Martyred came out, the New York Times reviewer said it would last. . . . When I finished Lost Names, I didn’t think it was in the same class as The Martyred, but I said to my wife, Penny, this is an exquisite piece, a small jewel. Because that was how I felt. It was hard to find fault with the book. The technique, the language: granted that the author was biased, prejudiced . . . I felt it was nice, not grand, not big (The Martyred was), but nice. I felt good, really good about it.
I don’t know. . . . maybe it [the book] will last. If it does, it’s only because people will look at it [in a larger context?] . . . if it were only a picture of a family. . . . I don’t know, maybe there’s something more to it than a family and a family’s survival.

Masalski: If you were teaching in a college, high school, or junior high/middle school classroom today, how would you "teach" the book?

Kim: I would stress that they shouldn’t read this book as issue-oriented, as anti-Japanese or anti-colonial. I would ask that they [teachers and students] observe and understand how a family, both in private and in times of war, copes with war and with one another. I know you think the characters are almost too good to be true, but we really were good. We never fought. My parents never exchanged harsh words.
My grandparents were patient souls. It may have to do with the culture thing. . . . They had humble beginnings. . . . didn’t have the "more sinned against than sinning" attitude . . . they didn’t feel wronged; they were always grateful for what they had. I think I have that. I’m so grateful every time I go into a grocery store that I am able to pick from the shelves that which I want. . . .
My grandmother was tough. . . . grandfather was saintly. They didn’t talk that much. I’m different. I’m told that on the second day of Kindergarten I didn’t like school so I stopped going. I left the house every morning and hid. No one knew until the school came looking. I never went back. . . . I’m different. . . .

Masalski: At every one of our summer institutes, teachers have brought up the incident in Lost Names that involves rubber balls. The chapter, "An Empire for Rubber Balls," presents such an engaging, dramatic scene. When the Japanese Empire was at its height, the Japanese distributed rubber balls to all children. But after the tide turned for Japan, they wanted them back. As class leader, the boy was responsible for collecting the balls. He pricked them in order to fit them into a container, and the teacher beat him severely. What is the message here, the lesson?

Kim: The Japanese really wanted the balls back. And here is the irony of the situation. My grandmother, in her peasant wisdom, came up with the idea of pricking holes in them. I think the Japanese assumed that the boy’s father had influenced him. It was not so . . . the incident happened. . . . I was beaten pretty badly. . . . I don’t remember all the details . . . for example, there was a Korean policeman, but I don’t think he intervened. . . . this is where the fiction comes in. . . . I brought him into the story.
That’s the fun part of a book like this. . . . taking fact and fiction and mixing them together. I don’t know what my mother said in certain situations, but I’d make what she said sound good in certain situations. The momentum creates the situation. . . . dialogue comes out . . . you can’t plan every dialogue. I would call my mother up (when I was writing the book) and say guess what you said today, and she would ask, "did I really say that?"
"There is no nobility in pain; there is only degradation" (p. 134). This was an unusual thing for me to say. It’s not Christian, but . . . the truth is, for most people a beating is a beating. I remember my father was held upside down from the ceiling, not by the Japanese, but by a Korean who was working for American intelligence. (This took place in South Korea after the family moved from the north to the south.) He was picked up in 1946, ‘47, ‘48. . . . a Korean detective working for the Americans brought him in, saying he was a communist spy sent by the north Koreans. They held him upside down and pulled all his hair out. (In the Japanese prison earlier, the Japanese shaved his head every day. . . . he said that was so painful. . . .) The Americans held him until something happened that proved he was not a spy. When I arrived in the south, I found him and spoke with a Korean American in intelligence. When my father was released, I shouted, "Someday I’ll kill all you Americans." This was so difficult for me. . . . the Americans had come as our liberators. . . .

Masalski: Which incident/passage in the book lends itself to teaching, or presents an "ideal" teaching situation?

Kim: I don’t know about teaching it, but my favorite scene in the book is in "Once upon a Time, on a Sunday." . . . They come home, finally, and the boy is outside the cottage with paper screen (shoji) for windows; the light inside glows, and the boy is looking up. . . . and this is fact and fiction . . . being so afraid of the dark, but suddenly with a sense of the insignificance of things . . . of his minute existence . . . and yet we were killing each other. . . . the sudden ludicrousness of being in a vast universe. That day we had studied with the map in the classroom. . . . and the day ended with the entire universe in the dark. . . . I felt some kind of fear, a primordial fear drove me into the cottage. Mom, Dad, and light were there in the face of this primordial fear of the vast unknown. And what was there to protect me was the family.
I like that one-page scene because it suggests the possibility for the mind and the view of this boy. . . . the scene is so commonplace, the beautiful stars, a conventional thing . . . why be terrified of that when everyone else sees something beautiful, awesome. . . . What is there to terrify him . . . something scary out there? Something terrifying out there—all this is going on out there—war, nationalism, colonialism—it’s all so insignificant.
Maybe in a sense that’s what I think today, having gone through colonial life, war which consumed my youthful existence . . . and defined everything for me . . . now is so insignificant . . . in the twilight of my life. Really, what we think is so earth-shaking turns out in the end to be so insignificant. . . .

Richard E. Kim was born in Korea and has lived in the U.S. much of his adult life. He was educated at Middlebury College, Johns Hopkins University, the State University of Iowa, and Harvard. Richard Kim has taught at several universities in the U.S. and, as a Fulbright Scholar, at Seoul National University in Korea. In addition to Lost Names, he is the author of several books including The Innocent (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968) and The Martyred (New York: George Brassiller, 1964). He has also scripted and narrated several documentaries for KBS-TV in Seoul.

Kathleen Woods Masalski is Program Coordinator for the Five College Center for East Asian Studies located at Smith College in Massachusetts. She directs projects on China, Japan, and Korea that serve New England teachers. She serves as chair of the AAS Committee on Teaching About Asia (CTA) and is a member of the editorial board of EAA.

Utilizing "Lost Names" in the Junior High Classroom
I first was introduced to the novel Lost Names during a recent postgraduate fellowship I participated in entitled Imperial Japan—Expansion and War, 1892 to 1945. Sponsored by the Five College Center for East Asian Studies, the seminar was conducted at Mount Holyoke College. Our preconference assignment included reading this novel, and we actually had the opportunity to meet its author, Richard E. Kim, during the conference. He helped us analyze our feelings and reactions to his powerful story. In announcing its reprinting, scheduled for 1998, he previewed our group with his own Author’s Note for this new edition in which he states that he is proud of the fact that his work is often taken as a factual memoir, not fiction. wright.jpg (5097 bytes)

Fast-forward one year, and I am now teaching Seventh Grade Social Studies at the Brimmer and May School in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Brimmer is a small, coed private school and a member of the Coalition of Essential Schools. The philosophy of this coalition promotes a collaborative education encompassing the values of independent thinking with group oriented problem solving and analytical skills, community, individual responsibility, citizenship, and respect.

In this collaborative setting, I found myself team teaching these students with Joseph Iuliano, who taught English in addition to being Head of the Middle School. Interestingly enough, when we met over the summer, we were both new teachers to the Brimmer community. Our initial course curriculum goal was to meld writing skills with the study of geography and culture of the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. We also planned to incorporate a student project entitled "Family History—A Short Story." Questions to be addressed included: what resources can students use to learn about their ancestors and other cultures; and how can factual events be used to enhance a fictional work? For this project, we required both accurate historical and cultural information, along with a solid narrative model, which the students could relate to and emulate. We also wanted to ensure that this experience would be academically enriching for them as well as being personally satisfying.

In August, I had given Joe my copy of Lost Names as potential curriculum material for his English class. He rediscovered the book while cleaning out his office prior to this term and began reading it. Simultaneously, I realized that we were doing the students a disservice in not studying the cultures of Asia. In discussing this lapse with him, we realized that this novel would be a perfect fit for our project. When both Joe and myself had initially read Lost Names, we did so without realizing that it was a work of fiction because of its personal intensity. We hoped that our students would assume the same until they read the Author’s Note at the end, thus subliminally impressing upon them the literary style we were looking for.

In addition to reading the book to appreciate its composition, we also wanted our students to glean the significance of the actual history. Lost Names contains pronounced anti-Japanese sentiment expressed from the black vs. white/good vs. bad viewpoint of a young boy. In order to counterbalance this one-sided view, I also chose to incorporate excerpts from other works such as Saburo Ienaga’s The Pacific War: 1931–1945, Norma Field’s In the Realm of a Dying Emperor, and films like Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies, which all added critical insight into this study. My fear was that if I presented Lost Names on its own, my students would walk away with a biased opinion of Japan instead of a variety of perspectives from which they could judge Japanese culture and political actions themselves. We did not believe our seventh grade students had been exposed to a strong enough background in World War II history to prevent a bias if the book was taken on its own.

Some initial student comments regarding Lost Names follow:

We learned a lot about war and life in it. After we read the book we watched a video about life in Japan during the war. I found out that life was no picnic there either.

Lost Names was a really moving story. I think Lost Names was the perfect book to read before we did the Family History Short Story Project.

. . . it was a great example of an autobiography and dealing with hardships. Lost Names is a lot easier to understand than many other World War II references. It is also rare to find a book with a Korean point of view.

I am the same age as the narrator, but we have some huge differences in our lifestyles. I can play football and use computers and do a lot of different things. He was forced to work on building an airfield.

Before reading Lost Names, I always had thought of books based on history as being boring, but after finishing it and writing the short story on my family history, I realized what I had thought wasn’t necessarily true.

My great grandfather, the person I am writing about, also suffered through a lot of persecution because he was Jewish. Reading about this boy’s experiences helped me to understand what might have happened to my great grandfather.

The real events in Lost Names make it a great research tool as well as a great book that teaches different writing styles.

Many of the students’ projects on family history coincidentally involve that same period of time illustrated in Lost Names. I think this novel gave them an added perspective on the political changes erupting at this time. The novel also illustrated to them that persecution and political unrest exists across all cultures and age groups. They not only learned what factors affected their recent ancestors’ choices in life, but that these factors are in a way universal.

Lost Names is a multidisciplinary novel; it goes beyond the confines of social studies or a history course; I plan to incorporate it into my United States History courses in the future. I hope my seventh graders will have the opportunity to study Lost Names at some other time in their educational career with an insight gained from their Family History Short Story Projects.

PETER R. WRIGHT holds a Master’s degree in History and a Master’s in Teaching from Simmons College and teaches United States History and Seventh Grade Humanities at the Brimmer and May School in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. He has participated in summer programs and fellowships at Deerfield Academy, the University of Virginia, and at the Five College Center for East Asian Studies at Smith College.


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In a currently popular world literature text of 1,442 pages, there are a total of four pages on Korean literature. An entire country’s literary heritage is condensed into two poems. Until I read Lost Names by Richard Kim, my only contact with Korea had been to watch my mother cry as my older brother set off for the Korean War. Then later I encountered some opinions and allusions to the country through study of Japanese language and culture. None of these led me any closer to what might be the heart and soul of the Korean people—the essential quality to which I wanted to expose my students in world literature. Then I read Lost Names. I knew immediately that this text would help my students discover that a small country across the world from America, with customs and traditions very different from theirs, is a place with warm, friendly people who share the same hopes and dreams as they do.

The student body at W. G. Enloe High School is very diverse. There might be a dozen different national backgrounds in any given classroom. A student sitting side-by-side with a friend who speaks English fluently may have no idea that his classmate’s home life is based on assumptions and ideas quite different from his own. Until they are introduced to world cultures and world literature in tenth grade, our students often have little idea of the value and richness of other cultural heritages.

It is the personal lives of others that draw students into literature, that make them want to know and understand more about another culture. Literature is the perfect key to open the curious minds of adolescents and help them to understand that for all of our differences, human beings share the same basic needs and desires and values. Lost Names is one of those rare texts that appeal to all ages. Seeing World War II through the eyes of a boy growing up in the midst of the chaos puts the war in a completely different perspective for our students who have no understanding of genuine hardship or sacrifice.

I knew immediately that this text would help my students discover that a small country across the world from America, with customs and traditions very different from theirs, is a place with warm, friendly people who share the same hopes and dreams as they do

Before my students begin to read Lost Names, they have studied the cultures, religions, and literatures of India, China, and Japan. They have looked at World War II through the eyes of Japanese survivors of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. They are empathetic and sympathetic to the suffering of the Japanese people. Then they look at another non-American side of the war—not just what Japan suffered, but also the suffering Japan caused. They triumph with the small victories of a young boy and his proud father trying to retain their self respect amid the indignities of occupation and war. The story that Richard Kim weaves encircles them and draws them into the pain and daily victories of survival, into the courage and determination to persevere in the face of great danger. They see the Confucian values of family hierarchy and duty, not as abstract characteristics to memorize, but as a way of life that, when they are practiced well, supports every member of a society. They see filial piety and duty as two parts of a whole. They see the boy practicing these values as a son and then as a leader of his group at school.

Until American students see how these values work in everyday life, it is hard for them to understand how anything but being a "rugged individualist" can be a good way of life. When, in chapter three, the boy challenges a classmate to a race, knowing the classmate will win, students can see that losing can be a different kind of victory. From reading this novel students can begin to develop an understanding of the tragedy of war in general and civil war in particular. In addition, they can vicariously experience the triumph of the human spirit, something common to all mankind.

At the end of last school year, when I asked which works in the curriculum should be taught again and which replaced, there was a great outcry for the continued inclusion of Lost Names. For further information, see Teaching More about Korea: Lessons for Students in Grades K-12. The lesson plans are published by The Korea Society as an outcome of the Tenth Annual Summer Fellowship in Korean Studies Program. The booklet includes "A Study Guide for Lost Names and Discussion Questions for Various Short Stories," all by Korean authors. For more information about the publication, contact Yong Jin Choi, Director, Korean Studies Program, The Korea Society, 950 Third Avenue, 8th Floor, New York, NY 10022; Phone: (212) 759-7525, ext. 25.

SUSAN MASTRO is currently the Coordinator of the International Baccalaureate Programme at W. G. Enloe Magnet High School in Raleigh, North Carolina. Formerly a teacher of world literature and Japanese language, she has written curricula for both subjects and an article on Japanese literature for AGORA magazine (1992). She is an adjunct to the North Carolina Japan Center and has traveled extensively in Japan.


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"Problematize the master narrative!" These were the words some years ago at an NEH summer institute for teachers. The speaker’s language wasn’t mine then (it is now), but I realized that that’s what I’d been doing in my teaching for years: making an issue of the dominant interpretation (usually that of a textbook). It is what more of us need to focus on, at all levels and in all subjects. Textbooks are always wrong. History is never simple.

As a professor of Japanese history at a major state university, I have the luxury of teaching a full-semester survey course on Japan (History of Japanese Civilization). It is in this course that for many years now I have used Richard Kim’s Lost Names. (Just before the first edition went out of print, I was able to buy forty copies, so that Lost Names lived on in my course even though it was out of print.) So let me describe the course.

Richard Minear

There are forty-five students of various rank, freshman through senior; and the class meets three times per week. Two meetings per week are lectures, films, or other activities; one meeting per week is a discussion. I lead all the discussions. One of the concerns throughout the course is the relation between author and material (study the historian), and the syllabus carries biographical data on all authors we encounter, including both me and Richard Kim. I have as well the advantage of having been present twice in the last five years when Kim discussed Lost Names with groups of teachers.

The latter half of my course, roughly, is Japan since 1800. Because I dislike textbooks, I assign a non-textbook, Ienaga Saburo’s The Pacific War, and then spend much of my time disagreeing with it. My lecture presentations take issue with Ienaga, and for the final paper the students have to compare and contrast Ienaga and Minear. The next-to-last paper concerns Lost Names.

The Lost Names paper focuses on ethnocentrism in the Japanese treatment of their Korean subjects (Lost Names is the students’ only source) and on how to evaluate the evidence Kim presents. Lost Names is not a history book; but how do we process the information Kim offers? Students find the first part of the paper—how ethnocentrism affects the narrator and his family and the Japanese officials—very easy and the second part very difficult. The sheer power of Kim’s prose makes it difficult for them to step back and criticize—even though this is late in the course and we have been criticizing sources all semester.

But close reading and criticism are what the course is about, and despite the fact that many students complain that Lost Names is all they know about the subject, I insist that they can and must criticize. It is not a matter of liking the book or not liking the book; with rare exceptions, students are bowled over by it. It is a matter of processing the material.

So where to begin? As always, with the author’s biography. Clearly, the narrator’s life and Kim’s overlap. But how do we deal with autobiography? What are the advantages and disadvantages of hearing things "straight from the horse’s mouth"? Some students find it impossible to believe that the narrator was so utterly invincible, so right in all the major choices he makes. The "Author’s Note" at the end of the new edition states artfully (too artfully?), "Perhaps I should have included a disclaimer [in the first edition]: all the characters and events described in this book are real, but everything else is fiction. . . . It is for me a happy predicament. On the one hand, a book I created as fiction is not accepted as such. . . ." In sessions with teachers, Kim has come close to stating that things happened essentially as he recounts them in the book, except that he combined events from separate days into one day or changed a daytime event to nighttime.

At war’s end, Kim the author is thirteen years old, the age of the narrator. But Kim wrote Lost Names twenty-five years later, in 1970, when Kim the author was thirty-eight. Between 1945 and 1970 Kim had continued his education in Korea, fought in the Korean War (on the side of South Korea), attended Middlebury College, and written several novels about the Korean War; in 1970 he was teaching in the English Department at the University of Massachusetts (he wrote Lost Names in English). What is the relation between Kim in 1970 and the narrator in 1933 or 1940 or 1945? That is a real question.

Most if not all students note that Kim the author cannot have remembered the scenes from 1933, at the beginning of Lost Names. After all, he is a baby in his mother’s arms. Fewer raise questions about the scenes of 1940 (the loss of names, when author Kim was eight years old) or 1945 (the liberation, when author Kim was thirteen). Lost Names is seductive in part because it purports to be a child’s recollection, but are we reading the thoughts of an eight-year-old Korean schoolkid (1940) or the thoughts of a war-hardened and cross-culturally sophisticated 38-year-old (1970)? At the end of the "Lost Names" chapter, the narrator speaks: "Their pitifulness, their weakness, their self-lacerating lamentation for their ruin and their misfortune repulse me and infuriate me. What are we doing anyway—kneeling down and bowing our heads in front of all those graves? I am gripped by the same outrage and revolt I felt at the Japanese shrine, where, whipped by the biting snow and mocked by the howling wind, I stood, like an idiot, bowing my head to the gods and the spirit of the Japanese Emperor." Are these the words of an eight-year-old? Fortunately, some students have a family member or know a neighbor of that age.

If the thoughts are, in part at least, the thoughts of a 38-year-old, what were the influences on him? When teachers asked author Kim about favorite reading when he was young, he mentioned the great Russian novelists (in Japanese translation). Is Kim’s narrator perhaps part Tolstoyan hero?

Is the narrator’s experience representative of the Korean experience? Lost Names is useful in my course in part because much of what the students hear from me (especially in contrast with Ienaga’s book) is sympathetic to the Japanese—not in their treatment of Koreans but in relation to their struggle with American power. To hear a Korean viewpoint is enormously useful. But is Kim’s viewpoint the Korean viewpoint or a Korean viewpoint? This is a tougher issue for students, but some acknowledge that the narrator and his family are exceptional in terms of wealth, prestige, nationalistic activity and religion, that one of the narrator’s classmates—Pumpkin, for example—might have written a very different book. On occasion I have given them a quotation from an essay by Bruce Cumings to underline the point that not all Koreans think alike. Speaking in 1950, a Korean industrialist commented that the return to Korea after the war of "numerous revolutionists and nationalists" had stirred up anti-Japanese feeling, but today "there is hardly any trace of it." Korea and Japan "are destined to go hand-in-hand, to live and let live," so bad feelings should be "cast overboard." Today "an economic unity is lacking whereas in prewar days Japan, Manchuria, Korea and Taiwan economically combined to make an organic whole."

Almost to a person, the students are appalled at the Japanese treatment of the Koreans that Lost Names describes. It reinforces what they read in Ienaga, and I offer them no contrary evidence. (A former colleague of mine, growing up on Taiwan at the same time, was sure at the end of the war that he was Japanese, not Chinese. Was Japanese colonialism the same everywhere and for every person subject to it? That is material for an entire course.) Could Lost Names happen only in Korea, or are there echoes in the histories of other countries, perhaps even our own? This is a tough one. A number of students come up with Ellis Island and the changing of names; but that was by and large voluntary—a simplification, not the forced purging of a past. A very few mention the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the schools it ran, which outlawed the use of native languages and insisted on "Christian" names. These events do not excuse the Japanese acts we read about in Lost Names, but they provide a context that the book does not.

We do not discuss Lost Names in class; the students read it on their own. Here are excerpts from two papers from Fall 1998 (I have made no changes):

Lost Names is a work of fiction, and it can not be construed otherwise. . . . [t]he narrator’s family counters each insult from the Japanese in a glorious manner, which gives the story an element of unrealistic magnificence often found in fiction. . . . Events described in the book may have happened to Koreans, but it is implausible to have one family continually shake the foundations of Japanese occupation in one town without being ousted or "disappeared"—especially when the Thought Police knew the narrator’s father organized a resistance in the past. The story is perfect. It was obvious that the narrator would save the Japanese Shinto priest—everything falls into place, and the family reclaims their dignity at every step. But these elements exist only in fiction.

—a junior majoring in History

Kim did not write Lost Names as a journal, as events happened. Instead he wrote the story when he was in his late 30’s as a subjective reflection on what happened. The story was subjected to his experience and his views of the occupation and later events that shaped his life.

—a sophomore majoring in Political Science

It was clear from both their papers that Lost Names had moved these students, but they had been able to keep their critical faculties intact. And that, I suggest, should be one major goal of our teaching.

Lost Names is a work of high art. It deserves the most serious consideration. In my course, we use it in significant measure to problematize the Japanese master narrative. But just as there are American and Japanese master narratives, so there is a Korean master narrative. We need to be as leery of the Korean master narrative as of the other two. We may not know much about Korea, but there, too, we need to problematize the master narrative.

RICHARD H. MINEAR is Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He has translated the writings and poetry of atomic bomb survivors of Hiroshima, Hiroshima:Three Witnesses, 1990; Black Eggs, 1994; When We Say ‘Hiroshima,’ 1999. His most recent book is Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel (1999).