So, if you’re in Seoul (Or Hawaii!), you have a couple of upcoming chance to see Maija Rhee Devine discuss her works, the history of modern Korea, and social trends, particularly with respect to the position of women in Korea.
And you should not miss it, she is entertaining and informative, as well as amusing and informal.
How informal? She begins with a quick discussion of Confucian history and how it affected authors, noting that they often called their own works 졸고 (졸 means low quality, very bad, a piece of crap. 고 means a manuscript, in English something like “jol-go”) or 졸작 (졸 is is the same 작 means work or a book, in English something like “jol-jahk”)
She then laughingly explained her work as sometimes being seen as “pieces of shit,” and quoted a hysterical review of The Voices of Heaven that was published on April 1st by her husband, but signed by “Dennis Rodman.” This introduction alone was worth the price of admission (Alas, a search of the Amazon comments revealed that this review has been erased – but go see Rhee Devine speak and you may well hear the story as I did).
Then Rhee Devine took us through the amazing history of her book, which is based on the real story of her father (a 3rd generation “only son” child) who had to take a “second” wife in order to try to have a son. This, of course, caused all kind of trauma in the family, including with Maija Rhee Devine herself, who had to endure the semi-taunts of neighbors that if she had only been a boy, that none of this would have happened (and even that ended up in a kind of a surprise ending).
Rhee Devine continued with a personal history, including the unusual fact that the Korean War was one of the happiest times of her life. This also included some awesome historical background, and the audience was more or less spellbound.
She also talked a little bit about how books focused on Korea aren’t as popular with publishers as ones about Japan and China, as well as how she struggled to ensure that the language in her book reflected Korea and consciously attempted to differentiate her work from that of those other countries.
Finally, the afternoon concluded with a spirited discussion of the role (changing, maybe?) of women in Korea, and how four of the Confucian relationships are vertical, rigid, and deforming.
Maija Rhee Devine will be appearing several more times in Seoul, and once in Hawaii, and if you get a chance to check her out, you certainly should.
Here are those events:
• 10/28, Mon., 7:00 p.m. A dinner talk at an informal gathering of June Chang’s colleagues in Itaewon. June is the KBS International News Desk Anchor.
• 10/29, 2 presentations sponsored by the U.S. Embassy. (1) 1:30 pm at the Hankuk Academy of Foreign Studies. 150-200 freshmen and sophomore students. Presentation title, “My Book, My Story, and What I Studied in College,” 3:30-4:30p.m.
(2) a talk at Epiphany Book Club in the Embassy annex, 7:00-9:00p.m.
• 11/5, a reading/presentation, The Center for Korean Studies, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 4:30-6:30p.m. This is open to the public and you’re welcome to come!