Returning to Tristan da Cunha
In September and October of this year I will be returning to the island of Tristan da Cunha in the south Atlantic Ocean, the most isolated inhabited place on the planet. I will be spending close to four weeks exploring the island and catching up with my host family and friends.

Four years ago, before my first visit to Tristan, I asked people to write to me so that I would have mail waiting for me when I arrived on the island. On September 13, 2013 I walked into the Tristan post office on my first full day on the island and the staff had mail waiting for me. What a thrill it was to receive mail on Tristan da Cunha.

May I please ask if you could write to me again? If you want to write to me, I ask you please to do so now. Tristan will only get five mail deliveries by the time I arrive on the island this September. With such infrequent mail service, it is imperative to get your letter or postcard sent off as it already takes many months for letters to arrive. If you wait until April or May to write I might not even get it. Please address your envelope or postcard as such:

Craig Rowland
S. A. Agulhas II passenger visitor
Poste Restante
Tristan da Cunha
South Atlantic Ocean
via Cape Town, South Africa

Please include your own mailing address as well or send it to me via E-mail reply.

I promise to write to everyone who writes to me. Your postcard will be covered in stamps. Why send a postcard with only one stamp on it when I can cover it with six?

I love the philatelic arts and sending postcards covered in stamps from out-of-the-way locations. Please write to me and I promise to send you a postcard from Tristan da Cunha.


New LiveJournal blog
Once again I have exceeded my space limit at LiveJournal. I am amazed that it has lasted up until now, as for the past several months I had been creeping ever so close to the 100% capacity mark. With each new book review cover scan the decimal past 99.0% would increase ever so slightly. Now that I have finally finished decorating my house for Christmas, and found the time to take pictures of it, I am ready to upload my annual Christmas At My House photo show.

Not so fast. All it took was one more photo to bust my space limit. So, as when I was in Cape Town three years ago and had to announce my new LiveJournal at wrongradical2, I mark the time of Christmas 2016 as the beginning of wrongradical3.

If you are interested in reading my journal, with its book reviews, travelogues and occasional whines about my struggles with technology, please join me at wrongradical3.

All three of my LiveJournals are open and do not require you to register with LiveJournal in order to read or comment on them.


Clara by Don Lyons was published in December 1985, fourteen months after Yorkville Diaries. My library system acquired an interloan copy from York University. It is hard to find the novels of this promising Toronto author. When I ran into former This Ain't the Rosedale Library co-owner Dan Bazuin at a book launch last month, I asked about Lyons, since I had bought Yorkville Diaries at Bazuin's store over thirty years ago. Dan recalled that Lyons was now around seventy years old and living in Calgary. So now my author hunt continues out west.

Clara is a short novel of 110 pages, telling the story of a mysterious woman who enters the lives of Leo and his best friend Robert. The boys are in grade twelve and around eighteen years old, while Clara appears to be in her early thirties. She is a pianist who encounters Robert while he is rehearsing piano on his own in a study room at the "Conservatory", which is the Royal Conservatory of Music. He becomes infatuated with her and soon the pair are inseparable. Before Robert had met Clara he had rented a room at "48" [ = 48 Bedford Road, the same address used in Yorkville Diaries] with money from an inheritance. It became a convenient place for the couple to hang out. Clara starts out as a straightforward teenage love story then evolves into a delusion of fantasy talk, as Clara goes all over the map in her storytelling. She tells the boys in offhand remarks of her encounters with musical and literary giants like Goethe. Leo and Robert shrug it off and don't make much of it, seeing as by now she's sleeping with both of them and I can suppose neither one wants to upset the apple cart by asking Clara why she's talking like an insane woman. Leo accepts that Clara even prefers to refer to him by another name, yet he does question Robert:

"Why was Clara calling me Johannes back at 48?"

the first time it happens. Robert seems to be aware that Clara comes out with crazy remarks, for he answers in a way that reveals that he's not so sure himself:

"Clara says that, uh, ... Clara--"

Clara is demonstrative and acts as if the world revolves around her. She is thus used to getting her own way around Robert and Leo. It is easy for her to be this way knowing that each boy finds it a thrill to be sleeping with an older woman, yet Robert isn't aware that Leo is sleeping with her. Leo does suffer pangs of guilt when he is in Robert's company. Clara can talk a mile a minute and leaves no room for debate. She convinces Robert and Leo to move with her to Leipzig, yet at the last minute Leo pulls out, which Clara does not accept. The story is meant to continue, as the book ends with the note "Clara is the first of three short novels: Clara, Robert, Colleen" yet as far as I know, the second and third never appeared.

One interesting fact never alluded to in Yorkville Diaries is that Leo is of Icelandic heritage. I wondered why, of all things, during a visit home he encounters his parents singing Icelandic folk songs, such as "Anna litla". Then we learn more about Leo's childhood in Reykjavík:

"My father began talking of our life in Reykjavik and how in Iceland there are few fireplaces. No wood to burn."


"...I told of how when I was eight I had a pony named Vinnear. I told how all Icelandic children are good riders."

Clara was another rapid read, just like Yorkville Diaries. Why didn't Lyons continue this trilogy? I can only find one other novel by him, Brown Rice. I wonder if that one is based in Toronto in the late sixties as well. If you can get your hands on this author's works, grab the chance. I want to read everything he has written.

Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism

I learned about Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism by Noenoe K. Silva from the endnotes in Articulate While Black. My library acquired a copy for me from the Timmins Public Library. Silva, who is a professor of Hawaiian politics and language, wrote a highly academic account of Hawaiian history from its first encounters with explorers up until the end of the nineteenth century, while maintaining her focus on the islands' battle against American annexation. Aloha Betrayed was loaded with endnotes, most of which referred to sources originally written in Hawaiian. Silva concentrated on the Hawaiian side against annexation, which is often ignored in English-language histories because most researchers can't read Hawaiian. Thus Hawaiians were rather open in their opposition to colonialism, knowing that the Americans couldn't read what the local newspapers were writing about it.

Silva explodes some myths about the annexation, one of which was that the Americans took over without so much as a peep from any Hawaiian:

"The myth of nonresistance was created in part because mainstream historians have studiously avoided the wealth of material written in Hawaiian, as Nancy Morris has carefully detailed. It is easier not to see a struggle if one reads accounts written by only one side, yet since the arrival of Captain Cook there have always been (at least) two sides of a struggle going on."


"One of the most persistent and pernicious myths of Hawaiian history is that the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) passively accepted the erosion of their culture and the loss of their nation...But as Amy Kuʿuleialoha Stillman has observed, 'Hawaiian-language sources suggest a remarkable history of cultural resilience and resistance to assimilation.'"

Silva documented the peaceful interactions between the Hawaiian population and the American officials who chose to ignore Hawaiian sovereignty, even though the Kingdom of Hawaii was recognized as a sovereign nation in the mid-nineteenth century. The resources--and cheap labour-- that the islands provided were too much for the Americans to pass up. Why not develop a ruse of needing to save the "natives" from their uncivilized ungovernable selves and extend the American empire into the Pacific as well? It was too easy, especially when missionaries on the islands were constantly exploiting the islanders' state of life in order to justify their own reasons for being there:

"That the Kanaka Maoli were part of an uncivilized race was the primary assumption of the first and each succeeding company of missionaries. It justified the appointment of missionaries, the bearers of civilization, to their positions of power. Later, after eighty years of missionization, the same discourse was deployed to justify the U.S. political takeover of Hawaiʿi: the uncivilized were said to be incapable of self-government."

The Hawaiian monarchy and its people remained committed to peaceful interactions with the Americans. There was no hostile takeover of the Hawaiian islands, however the annexation when put to vote was close to unanimous against. The last Hawaiian monarch, Queen Liliʿuokalani, always maintained that Hawaii had to have the backing of international law and opinion in order to protect itself from colonization. Thus she was aware of how the appearance of Western "civility" would help her cause, otherwise Hawaiians would be portrayed as uncivilized savages. She sought peaceful means through negotiation and by her own articles in the press:

"In other words, to some extent, Kanaka Maoli agreed that they had become civilized. For them, however, agreeing to become civilized had more to do with retaining their independence as a sovereign nation than with acceptance of the racial or cultural hierarchy."


"The queen's insistence on peace but also on active resistance forms part of her important political legacy; her country's government was taken not because she was weak but because she acted boldly."

Aloha Betrayed ends in 1898, after the abdication and imprisonment of Queen Liliʿuokalani. I certainly learned a different perspective on how Hawaii was integrated into the American sphere.

Silva employed many Hawaiian terms throughout the text and cited lengthy Hawaiian passages, and always included an accompanying English translation. Fortunately she provided a glossary at the end, which I needed to refer to each time I read the book as many Hawaiian words and phrases were similar or differed by only one word. I needed to the glossary to keep the definitions apart.

Christmas baking all done

I got home from work around 5:30 and shovelled the walk to the sidewalk from my backyard. Just a couple minutes before 6 p.m. I embarked on the sixth and final instalment of baking my Mom's famous shortbread cookies. At 11:13 I took out the last batch from the oven. In total I filled nine more tins, so that makes 39 tins in total. About 44 cookies fill each tin. Multiplication yields a total of 1716 cookies, but I have to take into account a few rejects which I kept for myself, thus making the grand total closer to 1750 I'd say over the six baking days. "Rejects" are cookies that are too dark on the bottom (although not burnt). I rarely nibble as I bake. I listened to a whole lot of Christmas music, alternating between soloist CD's, various artist compilations and instrumental albums.

Baking and shopping have preoccupied my time, keeping me from decorating my house. I am never this late in getting my home all bedecked for Christmas. I got a lot of shopping done on November 30, December 7 and 13 so I am glad that's all over. I will finally finish decorating this weekend, and will post photos of my new decor and arrangements. Mark gave me a new Amos Pewter cardinal decoration last Sunday and I put it on my tree next to my Tristan da Cunha knit penguin. My tree theme this year is bird decorations and hanging decorations that are not balls:

Baking Day
On Saturday, December 3 I spent the day baking shortbreads with my sister-in-law Evelyn. I had a huge project ahead of me as I intended to make dozens more than last year. In lieu of Christmas cards, I'm giving out my mother's famous shortbreads. I got up early and started punching them out using her old but indestructible cookie gun. At first I tried making a batch with gluten-free flour for a colleague of mine. I found this flour made the cookies taste very dry. Yet when I added more butter to the mix on my fifth baking day this past Thursday, December 8, the cookies lost their shape while in the oven. By the time I post this I have already made thirty tins, with each tin holding around 44 cookies. That's 1320 cookies! I may not be done yet... This weekend I announced that I was finished but my cookie list keeps getting longer. I might have to make another eight tins this Saturday. It's fun while I do it on my own, as I have time to listen to Christmas CD's and change discs. However when Evelyn and I worked on the cookies, it was more like an assembly line of production. We punched out one cookie sheet after another, sprinkling coloured sugar or putting candied cherries on the tops. We listened to Christmas music on the nonstop fireplace channel.

A Short History of Lesotho: From the Late Stone Age Until the 1993 Elections

Lesotho is famous for two specific geographical situations in that it is completely surrounded on all four sides by the Republic of South Africa, and its mountainous landscape is Guinness-worthy in that it has the highest lowest point of any country. As a child staring at world maps and borders, I was naturally drawn to Lesotho. I even wrote to the country itself (and not some local tourist bureau) for travel information back in the seventies. I got back a large stamped envelope (addressed to Mississanga, Ontario and not Mississauga, as I recall) filled with brochures and detailed maps. I still have it.

I bought A Short History of Lesotho: From the Late Stone Age Until the 1993 Elections by Stephen J. Gill when I returned to Cape Town after my trip to Tristan da Cunha in October 2013. For a book of only 266 pages, it took me an astonishing eighteen days to finish. I could not get into this book as I found its chronological account of Basotho history sadly boring. I had no desire to read this book other than during my daily meal breaks at work or while in transit. I spent merely one evening at home after work reading it. A certain sign that I am not enjoying a book is that I take so few notes--and for A Short History of Lesotho, I took none at all. I could "review" it by merely picking off chapter titles in the table of contents. The only part of Basotho history that I could take in doses longer than ten pages at a time dealt with its most recent history, its time as an independent nation. Lesotho celebrated its semicentennial in October of this year but at the time of publication the country had only had twenty-seven years of independence.

Black-and-white photos and maps fill the book which I appreciated since Gill made frequent references to south African geography, mountain ranges, rivers and other towns. I had first read in Eric Rosenthal's African Switzerland that when the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910, the country retained the right to annex Lesotho (as well as Swaziland). Gill elaborated on this, and that the Union threatened Lesotho several times with this legal takeover yet the Basotho always resisted. Lesotho as entirely surrounded by South Africa was always fearful of losing its sovereignty to this particular South African clause, yet the country never withheld its criticisms of South Africa's apartheid system. Lesotho found out that being critical of South Africa's racist policies resulted in increased international aid, so the mouse continued to roar. While apartheid was still in effect Lesotho provided the RSA with cheap migrant labour, which declined after the introduction of racial equality. Gill wrote about the transition from local governments of chieftains and kings to a constitutional democracy with a prime minister and ceremonial king. Lesotho has been more stable than other nations in Africa yet it did suffer a coup in 1986. Biographies of all Basotho kings were included, from Moshoeshoe I to the present king Letsie III.

Culture Club
On Wednesday, November 2 vavaverity and I saw Culture Club in concert at Rebel club in Toronto (formerly known as the Sound Academy). It was the original group lineup supplemented by a keyboard player, another guitarist and drummer, small brass section and three backing vocalists. Concert-goers who were around sixteen when Culture Club first broke out in the early eighties do not want to stand around a club until midnight waiting for a show to start. Our demographic continues to support acts like this and we have to go to work in the morning, so the doors opened at 7 and Shelley and I proceeded to the front of the stage. Shelley skooched her way in right up front and I was behind her. The show was scheduled to start at 8 but didn't get underway till 8:15. We had an amazingly close view of the stage and I thought for sure we'd be standing way in the back when I saw how many people had arrived at the club before we did. I suppose quinquagenarian fans like me don't want to stand for over three hours when they could be sitting at the sides or getting a drink at the bar.

Shelley has an easy time talking to people and befriended our neighbours in the front row instantly. I always wait until I am spoken to first, so I rarely initiate conversations with strangers. Shelley wore a headpiece that reminded me of a psychedelic Medusa. I say this flatteringly; it was fluorescent and had lights inside the tubular "hair". It was a hit all around and Boy George came over and had a lengthy one-on-one chat with Shelley about it. That's a way to get the lead singer's attention!

Culture Club started off with my favourite song, "Church of the Poison Mind". Jon Moss, the drummer, came out first and gave the song an extended intro, which I recognized by the lengthy drum beats. The band played all their hits, plus two songs off their new album, their first album of new material in eighteen years, scheduled for release in 2017. I must say, those new songs, "Like I Used To" and "Different Man" were very good. Boy George sparred and played with the audience, centring on a fan who stood motionless with crossed arms during these two new songs. With laughter Boy George taunted that the fan "could give us three minutes of his G.D. life [and act interested]".

While in high school I was a fan of Culture Club, especially the Colour By Numbers album. However I was not loath to tease them for the repetitive nature of their songs, especially the single-line choruses. Boy George even mocked his own songwriting skills as being rather unimaginative. I think he made this comment during either "It's a Miracle" or "Miss Me Blind".

The band also played two of Boy George's solo hits, "Everything I Own" and "The Crying Game". I was not disappointed by the repertoire, and perhaps it would be easier to list the hit songs that the band didn't perform: "Love is Love", "Gusto Blusto" (both of which were released as singles and were hits in Canada), "Mistake No. 3" and "Live My Life" (another solo Boy George hit). All the other hits they did, including "Black Money" which was an album track off Colour By Numbers. "The War Song" was performed with slow a cappella verses yet with the familiar chanted chorus which the audience was encouraged to sing along to.

The encore was "Karma Chameleon", "Purple Rain" and "Get it On" (the T. Rex song).

I kept my own Top 10 Singles Charts from 1983-2001, and Culture Club as well as lead singer Boy George made the following appearances:

by Culture Club (song title / peak position):

Church of the Poison Mind / 4
Karma Chameleon / 10
Miss Me Blind / 8
It's a Miracle / 4
The War Song / 9
Mistake No. 3 / 5
Move Away / 2

by Boy George:

The Crying Game peaked at #1 for two weeks in April 1993.

Culture Club had two Top 10 albums:

Colour By Numbers peaked at #4 and Waking Up With the House on Fire peaked at #8.

Photos by Shelley:

Mom, two years later
On November 12 at 11.45 p.m. I rode my bike to my mother's condo and relived the moment two years ago when I discovered that she had died in her sleep. I rode to the back of the condo where our unit was and I looked up at the apartment. It was all dark except for the living room window. Although we had sold the condo in January 2015, I do not know who lives there or if anyone ever did. (We sold it to a real estate agent who may or may not have occupied it herself or sold it.) I gazed up and looked at all the windows, including my brother's room and my own bedroom and my mother's room which were around the corner. Two years ago I went upstairs and found my mother dead in her bed. I will finally write out what happened that night.

My mother died in her sleep when she went to bed on November 11, 2014. After my brother Grant could not get ahold of her by phone he was worried where she might be. He and his wife Evelyn both called me that night to see if I knew where she was. My mother usually visited her friend Linda in Scarborough on Tuesdays and sometimes was out very late, however if she ever decided to visit Linda on a different day of the week, my mother always phoned me to let me know her whereabouts. That she hadn't done so for a possible Wednesday visit was strange. When Grant called I was editing some photos from my 2013 trip to Tristan da Cunha and when I was done I told him I would ride down to mom's place. I was certain that she had gone out somewhere and I was going to wait for her till she got in. "Where have you been?" I'd say, in a role-reversal where I would be acting like the worried parent. Although I was worried about her, I knew that I would be the one giving her a scare because once she put the key in the door she'd hear her TV on. It would be me, waiting up for her. I knew that I would be a tad annoyed at her for not telling either Grant or me where she was.

I rode down to her condo on my bike at 11.45 p.m. Although my brother had popped in at my mom's place from 5:00-7:00 p.m. that night after work, he did not go into my mother's bedroom, where she had already died in her sleep. My mother lives close by and the bike ride would only take five minutes. I remember thinking during my ride that I was prepared to stay up all night waiting for her if I had to. It was chilly that night, and I was dressed only in a thin tank top (as I had been to the Y earlier that night after a brief stop at City Hall to pick up a new security pass and then to Square One to buy some red shoelaces), sweater and jacket. I did not keep my eyes focussed ahead of me as I kept on glancing to my left, hoping to see mom walking south on Confederation from the Dundas bus stop. I entered her building by the moving room and although bikes are not permitted in the elevators I thought that it was almost midnight and no one was around so I'd take it up anyway.

My mother always put the chain lock on at night, and rarely put it on when she left to go out during the day. When I unlocked her front door the chain was still on. I panicked and all my calm and rational thinking went out the window. When the door was prevented from opening because the chain was still on I thought only one thing: my mother was still inside and hadn't left the apartment the entire day. I only realized after the fact that I should not have been thinking that way at all since Grant himself had been over there only five hours earlier. When I relayed this story to Grant later on, he told me that he thought it was strange when he arrived to find the chain still attached. For fear that our mother would freak out when she got home to find that the chain lock was no longer attached, Grant put the chain back on when he left at 7 p.m.

Nevertheless, when I unlocked the door and it was caught by the chain, my rational thinking evaporated. The chain lock told me that my mom had never left her place all day. I was prepared to bust the door down, however I did in fact have the lock for the chain on my keychain. When I got in, the phone was ringing. It rang several times--of course it was Grant and Evelyn, although by now they had ceased to leave messages. I did not answer the phone. I feared that I would find my mother collapsed somewhere. I was scared to walk from room to room. Now I know this whole way of thinking, getting myself into a freaked-out state, was so wrong--since Grant had been over earlier that evening--but when I was met with the door still on its chain lock I totally forgot about Grant's earlier visit. In my mind right there and then, that chain lock told me that my mother was still at home. I was genuinely scared to go any further. I peered around the walls slowly. When I entered the large bathroom, I was afraid I might find my mother dead on the toilet or slipped in the shower. The last room I checked was the master bedroom at the end of the hall. I pushed the door open, and saw my mother in bed.

"Oh mom!" I whispered. She had died. There was nothing I could have done, as she had been gone for a long time. She was on her right side with one arm raised above her head. She appeared to be peacefully still asleep. Although we did not request an autopsy, the coroner and we believe that my mother probably died of a heart attack. There were no messed-up sheets as if she had struggled with the pain of a cardiac arrest. She was gone.

I phoned Grant and Evelyn answered. I was calm and told her what had happened. Evelyn screamed and brought Grant to the phone. They would leave immediately. Then I called Mark. He asked if I would like him to come over and this is where I really lost my mind. During the shock of discovering that my mother had just died I could not say what I really wanted, which was "Yes! Please come over!". Instead, what went through my mind was that Mark would have to go to work tomorrow and he wouldn't get any sleep if he came over here at this hour. Mark even asked me twice if I wanted him to come over and I hemmed and hawed, until accepting his offer. I even wondered if I should call 911. I knew that 911 did not like frivolous calls, and since my mother was already dead and that there wasn't anything anyone could do to save her, I didn't think 911 was a necessary call. After I called Grant and discussed it with him I decided not to call. Then I discussed this with Mark and I decided to call. But first I thought I should call my Uncle Gary, my mother's brother, next.

My Aunt Lynda answered. She was in bed but still up. I told her the news and I will never forget how she broke the news to my uncle. If there is anything that can trigger the saddest memory about the immediate discovery of my dead mother, it's to replay my aunt's words: "Your sister has died." is how my aunt calmly and slowly broke the news to my uncle. I can hear her say those words as if it was just seconds ago. My aunt was very nervous about answering the phone, because her own mother was not doing very well and she feared the worst news especially from a post-midnight phone call. I spoke to my uncle briefly and then I decided to call 911.

When I did, I was sheepish, and worried that I was wasting their time. I told the operator that my mother had died and wondered if this was a worthwhile call since she was dead and certainly not in dire straits. The operator assured me that "whenever there's a dead body, you have to call us". I gave a few details and then waited.

My mind was all over the place and I totally lost all sense of time. The phone rang only a few minutes later. Guests buzz down in the lobby and it triggers the phone to ring. I thought it was Mark, since he only had to drive in from Toronto, and it wouldn't be Grant and Evelyn yet since they had to drive in from Guelph. You can imagine how surprised I was when two policemen and two policewomen were at the door. I was not even thinking straight: how could I have thought Mark would be here yet? How could I not be expecting emergency personnel only minutes after my 911 call? They interrogated me and wondered about my mother's state of health. I was being interrogated by four police officers so I told them everything, including my mother's various battles with cancer, but she had beaten breast cancer over thirty years ago so no, it wasn't cancer that killed her. They were inclined to go with that explanation, I believed. The officers asked my own details and I couldn't even remember my own phone number--twice. I had a nightmarish moment of feeling singularly guilty. While I am sure the officers have all dealt with traumatic situations like my own, I couldn't concentrate on my own phone number as my head was racing all over the place and I twice told them a wrong phone number, which I then corrected.

A Young Man's Memoirs on His Escape from South Korea

I picked up A Young Man's Memoirs on His Escape from South Korea by Kim Yong Son when I visited the DPRK in 2011. When I show this to others they sometimes read the title as an escape memoir from North Korea. I have had to ask my friends to read the title once again. The subject matter is entirely predictable--about a disillusioned victimized capitalist and his endless tales of woe while living in the hellish southern Republic of Korea--and the reader must struggle at times with how loudly he will guffaw with laughter when reading it in a public place.

For readers of North Korean propaganda literature--and I have read and reviewed a lot of it--nothing I encountered in this faux memoir was new. Young student Yong Son worries if he will be able to continue school year after year due to the ever-increasing fees and endless additional charges. And once he gets to school, he must worry about classmates such as Chang Sol, who had been raised to be a spy since childhood. Even his chewing gum is the enemy:

"I turned my eyes unwittingly on Chang Sol who was sitting at a desk by the window, chewing Canadian gum."

The English in many of the works I bought in North Korea was poorly translated. The most common error, which I have reported in my past book reviews, is the tendency when going from Korean to English to leave out the definite or indefinite article, or to write one article when the other one is more suitable. This makes for stilted reading and I always had to read sentences over again. Some English renderings were hilariously contrived. A Young Man's Memoirs was written in 1984 (yet published in 1989) but no English speaker would have ever described an attractive young woman like this:

"And this young lady, Sun I here, dressed gracefully in white like a swan on a lake has appeared on the campus as a star. She is the talk of male society for her simple and modest character and her strong sense of justice."

Sounds like Joan of Arc.

Throughout this memoir South Korea (always rendered as south Korea, with a lowercase s, of course) is painted as a hellish wasteland populated by prostitutes and thieves. Trumpish money-grubbers extort higher tuition fees and Yong Son's parents are worked to the bone to try to earn enough to keep their son in school. Yong Son's mother has a miserable expression throughout the book while his father injures himself in a mining accident. In order to raise funds for Yong Son's tuition and her father's medication, his sister Yong Ok whores her dignity in flitting from cleaning job to cleaning job, eventually hooking up with a millionaire family whose decadent lifestyle as clotheshorses certainly kept the local tailors busy:

"The capitalist lived at the height of luxury and debauchery. All the members of his family changed their clothes 30 times on average every day, it was said."

Yong Ok's salary kept Kim in school yet their father never recovers. It grew to be a running joke throughout the memoir how Mr. Kim would be eternally lying in pain. Every time Yong Son returned home, sometimes after being away for years, his father would still be moaning while lying flat-out on the floor. I mean, take him to a hospital or do something! Yet the propaganda dictates that the Kims are too poor even to afford the most minimal health care and that South Korean society is so heartless not to care for its own people.

When Yong Ok's millionaire boss moves to Brazil, taking all of his domestic help with him, Yong Ok couldn't get out of South Korea fast enough. Yong Son paints a nightmarish picture of his home country:

"South Korea really is a hell on earth and a prison without roof. It is no exaggeration that people say that although they are living at their home, they have one of their legs in the prison."


"South Korea, where men are treated as commodities and, further, as beasts, was truly a burial ground for human beings."


"I shall be very happy if you reader understand from my humble memoirs that south Korea is a land of darkness unfit for human habitation."

The anti-American propaganda is turned up in a memoir such as this, and the occupying Yankees are blamed for all of the Kim family's misfortunes, from the destruction of Yong Son's cart:

"One day my cart, which I had left by the roadside, was hit by a US army truck and smashed to pieces."

to the death of his own mother:

"A GI truck which was racing madly along the road hit my mother and mortally wounded her."

As Yong Son's life spirals downward he turns to stealing food. He finds out that there is a nationwide system of food-stealing gangs. He is also arrested for taking part in a demonstration, only to discover that the authorities have no common decency when locking everyone up for the night:

"The 'protection room' packed with breathing human beings had its own way of life. There were people lying about in disorder regardless of sex with their buttocks touching each other."

The end of the memoir finds Yong Son drafted into the army and stationed near the DMZ. He is torn with indecision when he approaches the truce line:

"What shall I do? Which way should I take on the forked road of life and death?"

Yet we know what path he chooses, as the answer is written in the stars, quite literally:

"There's a reason why the Milky Way has turned brighter of late. It's all because the noble minds of the great General Kim Il Sung and Mr. Kim Jong Il in the north are reflected in the sky."

Once Yong Son devises a way to escape to the North, he risks death by enemy fire to cross the DMZ. While recovering in a Northern hospital, the first thing out of his mouth is "Is this north Korea?" to which a pretty nurse (of course) answers, amping up the propaganda:

"Yes, this is the northern half of the Republic where the great leader Comrade Kim Il Sung and the dear leader Comrade Kim Jong Il reside".

Tears of joy rolled down his cheeks and all his worries melted away. Yong Son can live his life in peace and prosperity and he leaves the reader with the following impassioned boast:

"What I want to emphasize in concluding this book is that north Korea is the blessed land looked up as a garden of Eden by the south Korean people."


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