Keoko tells a story of Korean history that I don’t think is often told. This of course comes with the caveat that I am no history expert, but I can’t recall ever hearing of this important bit of history. Park depicts a decade during World War II in which Japan occupied Korea and sought to decimate Korean culture. The Korean language could not be spoken, Korean could not be written, and anything to do with Korean culture was strictly forbidden.
The Japanese went so far as to make all Koreans change their names to a Japanese name, leading to the title of Park’s work. Sun-hee, Park’s Korean main character, changes her name to Keoko, and along with her brother Tae-yul tells the tale of the decade-long struggle to keep whatever bits of Korean heritage alive that they could. This is a very moving book, but what affected me the most was Park’s depiction of how this occupation forever altered the presentation of Korean history. So much of the Korean culture was destroyed and so many of the artifacts that represented it were wiped out, leading to a huge gap for many Korean families in mapping out their heritage. Furthermore, many of the Japanese abuses against Koreans went undocumented, giving a sense of falsity to this troublesome time that Koreans truthfully lived. It just goes to show how important history truly is, and how easily manipulated it can become.