From 1932 to 1945, the Japanese occupied Korea. Organized in seven vivid scenes, Kim's fictionalized memoir tells the story of one family's experience, as told by the boy. The narrative starts in 1933 with a dramatic iced-river crossing into Manchuria, when the boy was just a year old, a story the boy knows from the many times his mother has told him the tale. Next scene and we're in 1938. The boy and his family have moved back to Korea, where the boy is the new boy in school and is learning new routines like bowing his head toward where the Japanese emperor is supposed to be in Tokyo. He does as he is told, but wonders if the emperor knows the children are bowing to him, wonders if he's asleep, or eating breakfast--or maybe even in the toilet. He pictures someone knocking on the door, saying, "Your Majesty! The children, the children! They are bowing to Your Majesty!" and him saying, "Wait a minute! I have my pants down!"
A few years later, the children are told they need new names--the Koreans must renounce their family names and take Japanese ones instead. Later, his father takes him to the cemetery to ask forgiveness from their ancestors for the humiliation of losing their names. The scenes continue as the boy grows up, mingling the experiences of childhood with the history of the occupation, seen in the small day-to-day moments that bring history alive. Richard Kim uses a simple but powerful voice to evoke painful times, a loving family, and a strong spirit of survival. Lost Names is a beautifully written tribute to the people of Korea that is subtle, moving, and hard to put down.
"Lost Names is not a poem of hate, but a poem of love. . . . It is elegaic. It rises to moments of considerable dramatic power, but its finest moments, as when we see the cemeteries full of Koreans apologizing to their ancestors for having lost their names, are lyrical." -- Edward Seidensticker, New York Times Book Review
"The author's clear, evocative narrative describes a terrifying experience -- foreign occupation. Its homely detail demonstrates how pervasive nationality is, and how painful any attempt to destroy it." (The New Yorker
"This memorable document of courage and endurance is written with clarity and vigor, pierced with moments of poignant love and the blazing resentment of the young." -- Saturday Review