Top positive review
An author who chooses his words with evident skill
on June 9, 2016
Dispatches from the Peninsula is about an American’s indoctrination into work, life, and leisure as an expatriate English teacher in South Korea. Author Christ Tharp, a native of the Pacific Northwest, recounts his first impressions, observations, and challenges that come with life in a foreign culture. He writes with honesty and truthfulness as illustrated in the following excerpt that reports on his first experience at the Busan Fish Market:
“At one point I saw a crafty fellow escape his prison and make a break for it, correctly heading in the direction of the sea. He made it about fifteen feet before his minder-another rubber-and-visor-adorned grandmother-noticed his attempt. She rose from her stool and tromped over to the octopus, grabbed it firmly by its head, and flung it back into the bucket. No gentle keeper, she punctuated this move with a barrage of verbal abuse delivered from the depths of her throat. There is no room for sentimentality at the fish market” (location 847 on Kindel).
This excerpt shows Tharp is the kind of author who chooses his words with evident skill. Not surprisingly, my observations are parallel to reviews written by writeronbike, dk pan, SeoulBigChris, and fade2blk01. I would like to add that Tharp separates himself in the way he writes openly and candidly about the loss of both his parents during his time abroad and spares no expense in explaining the fallout from babopalloza, a satire comedy sketch that went awry and nearly got him deported. Reflecting on these adversities with such candor, the reader is not only bare witness to the author’s growth and maturity as a person, but also to some of the more grim realities of living in a country that is not too far removed from a military dictatorship.
For a person who arrived in Korea with no requisite knowledge of the country’s history or language, Tharp sure learned and experienced a lot within the space of six years. Tharp’s travels to all parts of the peninsula and his willingness to cling soju shots with random bystanders along the way showcases his adventurous spirit. The book is replete with vivid, often humorous observations. But at the same time, Tharp includes references to Korean phrases and cultural norms, which speaks to the reality that he is not the type of author with ethnocentric views (e.g. see Jackie Bolen’s How to get a job at a Korean University), but rather one who is invested in the merits of ethnography. Fittingly, towards the end of the book, Tharp explains, “This is my home now. This is where my life is. My parents are gone. My girl is here, as are many friends, my house, most of my possessions, and two adorable, naughty cats” (location 3853 on Kindel).