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the Complete Review
the complete review - literary essays


Eastern Sentiments

Yi T'aejun

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Eastern Sentiments

Title: Eastern Sentiments
Author: Yi T'aejun
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 1941 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 189 pages
Original in: Korean
Availability: Eastern Sentiments - US
Eastern Sentiments - UK
Eastern Sentiments - Canada
Eastern Sentiments - India
  • Korean title: 無序錄
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Janet Poole

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Our Assessment:

B : appealing short pieces, and interesting insights into 1930s Korea

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Journal of Asian Studies . 5/2010 Kelly Y. Jeong
The Korea Herald . 30/3/2010 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Yi`s essays recount his attempt to re-experience Korean roots despite the absorption into the Japanese nation. Rather than displaying the dissonant juxtaposition of past and present in the narrative, Yi takes a more subtle approach of adopting a traditional genre and form. (...) Yi`s nostalgic efforts to retain tradition from inevitable modernization resonates with the fast changes of today`s world." - The Korea Herald

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Eastern Sentiments collects short feuilleton-pieces -- anecdotal essays, as translator Poole suggests in her Introduction, a popular form in Korea in the 1930s -- ranging across a variety of topics but most at least touching on culture, art, and literature in a Korea then still under Japanese rule and subject to the cultural influence of 'the West' (specifically with regard to forms such as the novel). (There are also two slightly longer pieces at the end -- a diary extract, and a 'Record of a Journey to Manchuria' -- but even these are divided up into shorter pieces.)
       Yi's approach is direct and personal: he writes what's on his mind, down to the small things that distract him. He presents succinct arguments in some of these pieces as he tries to make various points, but it's far from a merely didactic or opinionated collection.
       The personal detail (and sense of reverie that often goes along with it) is a nice touch: several times Yi mentions background sounds, for example -- explaining to someone why he doesn't put up an awning in front of his screen door ("I would not be able to hear the rain falling on the leaves"), or writing in 'Autumn Flowers':

     Autumn flowers know nothing of heat haze and birdsong. They bloom and fade under the cold moonlight and amidst the sound of old insects. That is their sorrow and glory.
       Yi also concerns himself with culture -- literary culture, in particular -- in many of these pieces, both generally and also in arguing for a more independent-minded Korean approach that does not lean so heavily on foreign influences. (Significantly, too, while many of the leading Korean writers of the day were still writing in Japanese Yi wrote these pieces in Korean.) He does appreciate the change that Western fiction has brought: a friend's father dismisses his and all fiction as: "Nothing more than market gossip" and while Yi sees that as a misinterpretation of fiction he is glad that the recent success and spread of Western novels now allows Korean writers to more easily justify their own efforts (and to avoid letting themselves be dismissed as writers of mere market gossip ...).
       He addresses issues of language and the popularization of literature. While still using Chinese characters (rather than the Hangul alphabet) for, for example, the title of this collection (無序錄), he notes the movement towards "the formerly despised vernacular languages":
     Everywhere modern literature, and the novels that represent it, are written in the vernacular language. This is where the secular nature of the novel lies. As a form that describes the daily life of millions of people in the daily language being used by those millions of people, the novel cannot exist without being somehow popular in nature.
       Yet even as he believes in the democratizing of literature (in terms of making it accessible), he emphasizes that art must stay true to itself: "Literature should always be literature, even if it is aimed at the masses."
       In the title-piece Yi suggests a fundamental difference between East and West, finding: "Meditation is the genius of Orientals", and noting the prevalence of a Zen (Korean: Sŏn) approach, as, for example:
When the Europeans were in their rooms drawing beautiful naked women, were not the Orientals out in their gardens sketching strange stones ?
       But, as he concludes:
     Yet, victory lies with the Westerners in our modern age. However much we may look down upon them, the lament of the East lies in having to follow furtively in their wake.
       The short, reflective essays in Eastern Sentiments are to some extent period pieces, and they are of greatest interest for the insight they provide into the 1930s cultural and intellectual atmosphere in Korea. But they're certainly a cut above simple commentary of and on the times, and there are charming bits throughout, making for an enjoyable, varied collection.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 July 2013

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Eastern Sentiments: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Korean author Yi T'aejun (김태준; 金台俊) was born in 1904; he eventually settled in North Korea, but his fate there after 1956 is unknown; his works were banned (for picking the wrong side) in South Korea until 1988.

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© 2013 the complete review

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