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Brother One Cell Paperback – February 26, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In May 1994, Thomas, a slacker vagabond teaching English, was arrested in Seoul, South Korea, for smuggling hashish into the country. He served three and a half years in various prisons and was released in 1997. In this strangely uneventful memoir, Thomas recounts his trials and tribulations in flat, unmodulated prose. Using an unnecessarily complicated flashback style at the beginning, Thomas presents himself as an innocent abroad—a symbol of the legions of disaffected middle-class youth wandering the globe aimlessly looking for, well, they don't really know. While teaching English to Korean children, Thomas falls in with an unsavory lot and heads to the Philippines for a drug deal. This goes awry, and he lands in prison, where he meets and befriends various other foreigners. One prison is like a U.N. of convicted losers. Most troubling is that while Thomas gives the reader plenty of detail and keeps the story moving forward well enough, he seems little affected by the experience. It is as though, as a relatively privileged American, Thomas is so stunned by being forced to serve his full term for his crime that he is unable or unwilling to be humbled by the experience. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In 1994, Thomas was a bright young man just out of college, looking to satisfy his wanderlust by teaching English in South Korea. His taste for adventure was formed in early childhood when he and his brother invented an imaginary character named the "Jolly Marauder," a pirate-nobleman with a fearless heart and a take-no-prisoners attitude. Thomas claimed the Jolly Marauder as his life model, which influenced his decisions to accept the teaching job in Seoul, work there illegally without a contract, and buy a cheap kilo of hashish in the Philippines to sell back in Seoul for a cool 10 grand. The fantasy ended, however, when Thomas was caught by the police and sentenced to three and a half years in a South Korean prison. In his memoir, Thomas explains how that time of incarceration represented his real education. Surprisingly, he found little brutality (no rape) in Korea's penal institutions, but there were language barriers, unfamiliar foreign customs, extreme codes of social hierarchy, and almost no individual freedoms. He had to overcome all of this, as well as his own personal demons, to get to a place of higher understanding--something that, amazingly, he seemed to accomplish. His account of that journey is gripping. Jerry Eberle
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (February 26, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143113119
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143113119
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #805,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Steven D. Ward on May 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
It took me a while to get my hands on this book after reading about Thomas in an issue of Esquire Magazine, I think it was. I had to get it shipped to me here in Korea through a book importer. I couldn't wait for it to arrive because I was so impressed with the magazine article that I had high expectations for the book.

My expectations were fully met. I've been interested in Korea for about seven years now, coming here twice as a student, and now living and working here while studying Korean. I've read several books about Korean culture, economy, etc, etc. None of the previous books I have read were able to paint such a vivid and profound picture of the culture I have come to love, in spite of its flaws.

Somehow, by experiencing a side of the country that we rarely hear about, he is able to understand the essence of Korean society and illustrate it in ways that rang true with my own experiences while simultaneously shedding new light on aspects that I still struggle with. In particular, it was interesting reading this book while settling into a job as the only non-Korean full-time employee of a Korean company. Not that prison compares to company life in the least.

This book is good on several levels. Other reviewers have already discussed the merits of the book as a memoir, etc, so I wanted to praise the book specifically as a book that relates to Korea, though perhaps not as many readers will be interested in this aspect of the book. I hope a Korean translation is released, because I think it would be an interesting perspective for Koreans to read about as well.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Laura on August 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book is incredible! I agree with the other reviewer who pointed out that one particular negative review on this book seemed grossly uninformed. To sum up just how that review errs, this book is not at all "uneventful"; the entire point of the memoir is just how humbled Thomas *did* feel by his experience; and while he does comment on ethnic diversity in the prison, he by no means sees his fellow convicts as "losers." Please don't do yourself a disservice by assuming that this book is nothing more than some whiny, poorly adjusted, rich boy's lament.

As for my own reactions to Brother One Cell, I feel that everyone can take something from it. While receiving a prison sentence is obviously no small deal, the appeal of this book is broader than many might assume. Some readers who never had to deal with a jail term may still find that it strikes a chord, have they ever found themselves faced with a prolonged set of difficult circumstances far away from home. The soul-searching that Thomas does, the way he articulates his pain over being kept apart from his loved ones, his insistence on "going it alone" despite his feelings of isolation, and his discussions of the fear of losing himself (on a fundamental and psychological level) are all of universal interest. He talks at length about the internal change that leads him to value the most mundane of acts -- things that he does not have in jail -- such as reading whatever he wants, looking at members of the opposite sex, walking around outside, and so much more.

I feel that there are probably a number of people out there who could relate to the types of emotional and psychological changes explored and documented in this book.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on April 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Cullen Thomas writes a strangely affecting book about his time in Korea. He goes there as a typical young American, no goals, not exceedingly smart or particularly stupid. Just a nice kid, really. He makes the mistake of underestimating the Koreans and gets caught shipping hashish over international borders. Somehow, he thinks the Koreans should notice that he is really a nice kid and that he hasn't hurt anyone. He is so presumptious, naive, and condescending to the Koreans that it is staggering. He is honestly surprised when he is found guilty of doing exactly what he did (and actually is found guilty of a lesser charge of "using" rather than "selling"). His time in prison is fascinating as he meets many interesting people and finally comes to accept responsibility for his own fate. I rather admired the Koreans, who certainly have a better penal system than we do (given the opportunity to apply to serve his last year in the States, he doesn't want to). I wish this young man well in the future, and hope that he writes more.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Edith Platt on April 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author of the Publisher's Weekly review seemingly didn't read the book in its entirety. In my opinion there is little except plot in that review that correctly addresses the book that I read. The last statement that Thomas was "unable or unwilling to be humbled by the experience" is amazingly off the mark.

The book was so good I didn't want it to end - I tried to make the book last longer, and when it was done I wanted more. It's not "just another prison book", if there is such a category, but it's so reflective and uplifting and hopeful, not just for the incarcerated, but also for anyone who has faced persistent difficulties. Thomas experienced an initiation that he endured with grace. Wonderful!
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