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Harold Hakwon Sunoo: Life and Poems of Three Koreans

Harold Hakwon Sunoo: Life and Poems of Three Koreans(Xlibris 2005)

This is a print-to-order book, rather than one sponsored by a major publishing house. I would have thought that would make it cheaper, but at £14 for a 104 page paperback it’s on the pricey side. And Sunoo is a man seriously in need of a proof-reader and editor. Even a standard version of Word might help iron out some of the errors of both spelling and syntax, but maybe he turned off the red and green wiggly lines because they got too distracting. Stylistically, one can make allowances and tolerate a few bits of Konglish, and even enjoy (as a change from the usual polite style to be found in history and literature books) some of the colourful and impassioned language. But there’s one linguistic tic that’s fundamentally misleading — the shifting at random between past and present tense. Sunoo talks about the oppressive regimes and the lack of political freedom, and he talks about this predominantly using the present tense, while most of the events he is talking about took place twenty five years ago or more. Does he think that South Korea still lacks political freedom? One clue is that, inasmuch as Sunoo systematically covers any biographical details of Kim Chi-ha (and you have to search for these among the dense descriptions of Kim’s political and ideological thought), he seems only to cover the 70s. So was the material for this book written 25 years ago and only just now published? If so, a brief introduction explaining why no updated material has been prepared would be welcome (It might be that Sunoo no longer has the creative energy — he is after all 88 years old.) On the plus side this book is a useful introduction to the ideas of the important dissident poet Kim Chi-ha, and has a few brief pages of biography and translated poems of two other dissidents, Ko Un and Yang Song-Oo. But overall, this book is a mess. A few more weeks in the preparation, and it could have been so much better.

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