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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Glee and Melancholy
When Jid Lee's memoir appeared in my mailbox, what I knew of South Korea was a bit about the Korean War and that the people loved spicy pickled kimchee. Yet that country's politics and culture became compelling and real to me as I read this book. Lee places her harsh and impoverished childhood in a national context, writing to rescue herself from a damaging cycle of...
Published on June 15, 2010 by Story Circle Book Reviews

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3.0 out of 5 stars One woman's memories of growing up in Korea
To Kill a Tiger, a sprawling memoir about growing up in Korea, tells the story of Jid Lee and her family's struggles through the 1950s-(roughly) 2000.

I was interested in reading this book because I myself am (half) Korean, have spent some time living in Korea both as a child and young adult, and was interested in getting a first hand account of Korea to better...
Published 16 days ago by Jacquelyn


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Glee and Melancholy, June 15, 2010
When Jid Lee's memoir appeared in my mailbox, what I knew of South Korea was a bit about the Korean War and that the people loved spicy pickled kimchee. Yet that country's politics and culture became compelling and real to me as I read this book. Lee places her harsh and impoverished childhood in a national context, writing to rescue herself from a damaging cycle of social and personal tyranny. In the process, her portrait of family and country grows more compassionate and complete. She begins by calling up early memories.

As a six-year-old, she was confined to bed for months by serious illness. Her grandmother, to teach and entertain her, regaled her many times with the story of Lee's six-times-great grandmother. A Buddhist monk told that devoted young mother how she could ensure great good fortune for her children and all their descendants. All she had to do, he said, was allow herself to be eaten alive by a tiger. Grandmother, with a mix of "glee and melancholy" reflected in Lee's own voice, told how her ancestor chose self-sacrifice, and a few months later was dragged away in the jaws of the great beast. Only bloody bits were found for burial in the clan cemetery. What her grandmother saw as an heroic act that led to two centuries of family success, little Jid Lee found a terrifying mandate. Would she, too, be called upon to sacrifice herself to a tiger's hunger in order to further her family? Family, after all, was paramount in Korea.

Lee was already struggling with being a girl in the ancient society. Tradition insisted a family's destiny was dependent on the men's strength and intelligence. Women were of little value. In her home, they were even given less to eat. Conversely, Grandmother also assured young Jid Lee that she could achieve greatness. In fact, all her family expected each child to improve the family's lot, and seemed to think a stick more effective than a carrot. The little girl had nightmares about tigers, was enraged by the unfairness she experienced daily, and confused by the mixed message of self-effacement and high achievement.

That same year, 1962, a coup d'etat brought Park Chung Hee to power in South Korea. Lee saw the U.S. actively support the right-wing dictator and turn a blind eye to his assaults on human rights. Her father had studied in the U.S. and found Americans to be caring and bright, yet to halt the spread of communism they assisted those who oppressed and killed many Koreans. As she matured, Lee was enchanted by the tolerance and wealth that made the U.S. seem magical, yet disturbed by its destructive military power.

Encouraged to study English as a means to success, at 25 Lee moved here to complete her education and gain her personal freedom. She became a citizen, and now has lived in the U.S. longer than she lived in Korea. From that dual perspective, she offers a well-written exploration of her life and family that provides insight into the contradictions in Korean culture as well as the role of the U.S. in its history, at least as many South Koreans see it.

From a childhood of injustice, poverty and emotional torment, Jid Lee built the life she longed for and became who she wanted to be. The details are intriguing, the history is important, but it is the tremendous achievement of breaking free that resonates most powerfully. Hers is a story to inspire and support all of us as we work to become more fully ourselves.

by Susan Schoch
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, compelling memoir, January 28, 2010
By 
M. Browning (Tennessee, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Jid Lee doesn't hold back the grim facts of her childhood in post-war South Korea, but her memoir is wonderfully free of self-pity. The story of her struggle to survive and create an identity within her patriarchal culture is inspiring, as is the reconciliation she achieves with her very traditional family. Lee frames her personal story with a fascinating account of Korea's complex history, which includes an unsparing description of America's meddling--and worse--in the country. Some of the more gruesome details in the book, such as its depiction of Korean "comfort women," are hard to take, but Lee's commitment to telling her story honestly is what makes her book so worthwhile.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging Memoir, October 25, 2011
The complex cover of this book hides an even more complex story threaded with history, culture and folklore. Lee portrays her Korea; The way she sees things now and in the past. This is a story of a woman raised in a highly partriachal society who defies her cultural identity to embrace her individual worldview and become a successful person in her own right. If nothing else, your ideas about the Korean War will be strongly challenged.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressed, November 16, 2010
To Kill a Tiger
To Kill a Tiger is a well written memoir of a Korean girl's life through the eyes of her adult understanding and interpretation of events. The story is shocking in its depiction of the social injustice toward women and the political system at the time, but it is hard to put down. It is impossible not to draw comparisons between American and Korean life styles. Had I been born a Korean female instead of an American male, I do not know if I could have survived in her circumstances. Ms. Lee, however, is a fighter.
I was most surprised by my reactions to the feelings expressed in this memoir. Although Ms. Lee and I are worlds apart traditionally and geographically, I found similarities between Korean and American families sharing the same social status in their respective countries. Parental regret over lack of money, feelings of social and material insecurity, and the embarrassment and individual shame over one's poverty seem to be universal.
To Kill a Tiger is a stimulating, thought-provoking memoir. It is fascinating to read about Ms. Lee's struggles to overcome tradition and become an individual on her own terms.

To Kill a Tiger: A Memoir of Korea
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking and Captivating; Could not put it down, March 9, 2010
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This book is absolutely amazing! I have Dr. Lee as a professor this semester and I must say I am delighted and honored to have such a vibrant, creative woman who was able to overcome such seemingly insurmountable odds. I personally am able to relate to Lee as a young child, each of us growing up in a society dead-set in its ways with a bitter attitude towards change. Lee's persona in this memoir is very relatable to many young girls around the world--girls who are searching for a way out of their own tiger's stomach. Lee's story is profound and enlightening. I was frequently moved to tears as I read each page with eager anticipation. Normally I am not very interested in social history, but Lee's memoir artfully weaves together the story of a headstrong girl with a country contstantly in political turmoil. This memoir is truly eye-opening and engaging in terms of a courageous young woman facing her society's social customs head-on and bravely conquering them. Reading this book was just as much an honor as having Lee as a professor.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and informative read that should not be ignored, February 16, 2010
The political sundering of Korea by no means was a simple split. "To Kill a Tiger" is by author Jid Lee's words, not just a memoir of herself, but a memoir of Korea, torn apart by the last six decades of a harsh standoff that started with a vicious war. Looking towards the beginning of the conflict, she focuses on the social change of the time, where in spite of the harsh conflict, people still wanted nothing more out of the world than to simply survive and live their lives. Discussing everything from the Japanese occupation in the first half of the twentieth century and forward, "To Kill a Tiger" is a fascinating and informative read that should not be ignored.
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3.0 out of 5 stars One woman's memories of growing up in Korea, August 13, 2014
To Kill a Tiger, a sprawling memoir about growing up in Korea, tells the story of Jid Lee and her family's struggles through the 1950s-(roughly) 2000.

I was interested in reading this book because I myself am (half) Korean, have spent some time living in Korea both as a child and young adult, and was interested in getting a first hand account of Korea to better understand this place.

The book's strength, I think, are the social mores Lee communicates regarding women, sex, and marriage, and expectations for girls. The reader is able to understand the reasons why a woman would devalue her own sex and support her boys and her men over her daughters. The book helps us understand why a promising young woman would willingly submit herself to an arranged marriage and why Jid would leave her home country to try her luck in America.

Because I am already familiar with a lot of the political issues the book brings up, I did not find the coverage of the politics in Korea particularly illuminating. Park Chung Hee is there is in the background in dinnertime conversation as a thug and gangster and we come to understand he ran the country as a police state, but I never got a clear understanding of *what he did exactly--even though her father risked his life and career speaking out against him. Syngman Rhee is also credited with offing political dissidents but the gory details of how and where are left out, which made for vague writing. The author does not bring to life the moment her father rejected the ruling administration to eke out a living as a school teacher. Rather this moment comes alive when the author's mother yells at the father asking him, "Why can't you make more money?" She also eventually SPOILER ALERT tries to kill herself (twice) but these moments are not dramatized to their full potential.

Overall, the book was very "telling" and while there are some scenes that the writer brings to life through description, these sections are few and far between, and the book remains mostly expository. Here's a sample excerpt. Lee is in her early twenties and is seeing two separate boys, one of whom she hopes to marry in a love match: "One of them named Yongnam, was a twenty-five-year-old college graduate from a middle-class family who was rapidly rising at a large company. The other, Dongwoo, was at twenty-four a partner at a small but stable firm. They were equals in educational qualifications and social class. Dongwoo had a dry, subtle sense of humor while Yongman made boisterous jokes. Both seemed cheerful and optimistic, envisioning for themselves and their future spouses new paths unhampered by tradition." This was her love match?

Although the book is organized chronologically, each chapter contains several anecdotes that are sometimes not clearly related and thematically the book jumps around. The pictures in each of the chapters also don't match the time periods covered in the chapter further confusing the issue of organization.

The most powerful section was the chapter on Japanese colonialism. In contrast to the pages and pages devoted to all the character's concern for the family status and what schools the kids are going to go to (a testament to how deeply boring Koreans are), there is a great urgency and importance to Aunt Minsoon's story and the story of Japan's colonialism in general, which gets to the heart of Koreans' sense of country and devotion to family.

Overall, this is a valuable book. Written in English by someone who grew up in Korea during fairly turbulent times, the book describes the years when Korea was transitioning from war and colonialism to the industrialized pop culture center that it is today. Clearly written? Sure. Well-written? No.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insight into Life in Korea in the 60s, March 21, 2010
By 
J. Hanson (Ann Arbor, MI United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
It's hard to believe that South Korea in the 1960s was a place where only men ate freshly cooked food while the women who cooked the meal ate only leftovers, where being born illegitimate was socially stigmatizing enough to drive people to suicide and where women were subjected to daily humiliation that I'm not sure was ever the norm in the United States. It may have been worse in the author's family, but South Korea really did export vast numbers of its daughters to America for adoption, so perhaps it shouldn't be a shock that the culture undervalued women.

The book is very well-written and vivid. In a way it's amazing that the author, who seems to have good relations with her family, would produce a book that portrays many of them in such an unflattering light, although perhaps they are unashamed of their behavior still. My only low points in the book were when the author dropped several-paragraph summaries of historical events into what is really a personal memoir. The larger historical context is interesting and I want to know more, but I'll look to a different kind of book for that.

If you liked this book, you might like A Mountain of Crumbs, another recent memoir by a woman who grew up in difficult, impoverished circumstances abroad prior to moving to America (in her case Russia). Interestingly, Russia, the former evil empire, comes across better in that book than South Korea does in this one.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a refreshing mind opener, February 21, 2010
By 
Iris Sees "Iris" (ROGERS, ARKANSAS, US) - See all my reviews
I loved reading To Kill a Tiger not only for all of its fascinating descriptions of Korean characters and society, but also for its poignant observations of violence. This story reminded me that our western concept of individual freedom, without consciousness and responsibility, is often an illusion since our personal and societal psyche, shaped by centuries of violent political struggles, more often than not determines our actions. Everybody should read Jid Lee's story for it offers a rare insight into the causes and ramifications of violence. Such as Spike Lee's movie "Do the Right Thing" and Boris Pasternak's novel Dr. Jivago, it shows how difficult it is to escape violence once it has been internalized or triggered. Like the two heroes of these works, Jid Lee, the writer and main character, escapes the vicious quagmire of violence by becoming aware of all of its intricacies.

Even though Jid Lee's story reveals the violence in Korean society-- which was often brought on by impositions of western standards and which percolated all the way down to her family struggles for survival-- her descriptions of the links between personal and political violence provide us with insights into our own or any social violence created by political changes. Political measures which on the surface seem to be a blessing to people in power can create havoc in the lives of others. If one wants to understand the intricacies of violence and prevent it in a 21 century which heralds itself as the epitomy of important global environmental, social, and political changes, reading Jid Lee's book is more crucial than ever.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars educational and entertaining!, February 13, 2010
I am a 14 year old boy.
When I first picked up "To Kill A Tiger," I did not know what to expect.
To my surprise, from the very first page I was captivated. The novel was informative as a textbook, yet was also intriguing as a good story. The prose was elegant and smooth, but also humorous and blunt. The novel was very insightful on Korean history and culture, and the narrative so personal that I felt like I knew the author all of my life!
It was an educational read as much as it was an entertaining one.
I believe "To Kill A Tiger" is for all ages and all backgrounds.
It was certainly worth my time.
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To Kill a Tiger: A Memoir of Korea
To Kill a Tiger: A Memoir of Korea by Jid Lee (Hardcover - January 7, 2010)
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