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No Couches in Korea Paperback – April 2, 2016
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From the Author
The author first arrived in South Korea for a one year stint in 1996, but continued to live there off and on over the next few decades. Korea never entirely left him, and some of the characters that found their way into his book, continue to frequent the bars, the streets, and the alleys of Busan and Seoul to this day. Now, all of them will be eternally memorialized, as they'll come alive in your own mind as your experience No Couches in Korea.
From the Inside Flap
2016 Foreward INDIES Finalist (Travel - Adult Non-Fiction)
"Chosen from over 2,250 individual entries, Finalists for the Foreword INDIES represent some of the best books from non-Big 5 publishers and authors."
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Top customer reviews
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What Maher captures so well in this book is the rollercoaster of emotions that living in Korea puts you through. I could identify with the awe, the frustration, the exasperation, the sadness, the joy, the confusion, and so many other emotions in between. Even though Korea is now a much more cosmopolitan place than it was in 1996, the emotions nonetheless remain, though the sense of disconnect emphasized throughout by Maher has surely been mitigated by the explosion in instant messaging and video chat technology that makes life easier to adapt to in today's Korea. There are much larger expat communities in Korea now, too, and more reliable, less exploitative workplaces, but the self-confessed love/hate relationship that Maher had with Korea when he lived there remains a common feeling among expats living there today. For all its dynamism and vibrancy, Korea can be maddening in equal measure, with logic and common sense often at a premium.
There is something about Korea, though. You meet so many people there who have profound effects on your life, even if some relationships end badly and too soon, and the lingering memory of Korea is one of excitement and melancholy as you reflect on the momentous decision you made to pack your bags and move to such a faraway land. In some sense, being an expat in Korea is like a brief microcosm of how life is lived - all of the emotions normally experienced in filtered forms are experienced much more intensely in Korea. There are, of course, those who stay for the long haul, who witness countless friends come and go, and even come and go again, but they stick it out and continue to crave the personal connections that kept the author coming back to Korea in the intervening years.
Despite sometimes shaky prose and poor editing, this book succeeds mightily in capturing the peculiar lure of a once insular country, a place that, just 20 years ago, remained a mystery for so many. Korea is now a leading player in the international community, and with economic growth forecast to continue steadily in the coming years, it is likely that Korea will become even less of a mystery to the average global citizen. What seems certain, however, is that it will continue to evolve, continue to defy expectations and retain its magical, maddening allure.
The tone is good natured enough. Perhaps because I've been here while I could really picture 1996 Busan as a developing city about to awaken. I really felt for the main character as he was ushered from the airport to his new school and immediately shoved into a class. If you come to Korea you realize it's a situation that we all have to go through at least once.
That's about where my praise for No Couches in Korea ends. The feeling and quality of writing fluctuates quite a bit. It's very clear that this is Maher's first stab at really writing a story. Whole sections seemed rushed. The majority of the characters seemed flat and I couldn't help but feel like Maher doesn't particularly like Korean people. The Koreans in this story come off as ignorant yokles. What little stake they have in this story is written in broken English. Did Maher even have any Korean friends?
I would have loved to love this book. It could have easily been an awesome period piece. I would have loved to really feel like I was in Korea in the 90s. I would have loved for something of substance to happen.
Don't get me wrong, there are some nice parts to this book. Overall, though, it seemed amateurish and hastily written. There are also a lot of typos!
The reason one would pick up this book is to get a glimpse of life in Korea in the mid-90s, before the Asian Financial Crisis. Instead, 80 percent reads like every blog every first-year English teacher has written. I was frustrated because the characters sounded like robots programmed with catchphrases (“Kick ass”) and physical quirks (Louis and his spittle) placed in a room together to interact. The first time a physical or verbal quirk was mentioned was enough. In this book, it passes for dialogue. For most of the book, the narrator didn't seem that interested in knowing these people or the country itself in depth, which is why character development is restricted to catchphrases. His travels through other parts of Asia and back in America didn't bring any insight. It was as if he lived in a bubble and couldn't perceive the world around him.
The sense I got of Korea in the ‘90s was that there was a dog market, people used landlines, and Koreans stared a lot. That's pretty much the same as when I arrived in 2004. The stories longtime expats have told me of Korea and the highly dysfunctional expats it attracted was what I was hoping for.
According to the last chapter, much of the book exists almost untouched from the author’s notebook scribblings from that time. The last ten percent seem to be written more recently by a more mature and nuanced writer. This is what I suggest…
The last ten percent is what the whole book should be!
What were the changes like? What was the change in the types of people who came to Korea? How did technology, the Financial Crisis, and the World Cup change Korea?
So many of the robotic catchphrase characters were uninteresting and predictable, as if their dialogue was copy and pasted from previous chapters. The little romance in the book was cringingly embarrassing. Even Melvin, whom is said in the book needed to be written about, comes off as a bad Adam Sandler skit.
The last part, starting with the narrator's return to Korea, was where the book picked up, and I couldn’t put it down.
If Mr. Maher feels like tackling this manuscript one more time, just condense the first 80 percent into 20 percent. Kill the catchphrases and have the dialogue move the plot or character development (read: growth). The emo crap about pining for the ex-girlfriend just excise, but expand on the reverse culture shock back in America. The plot of this book is really how the narrator grows to love Korea. More of the book needs to concentrate on that. How did the narrator grow? How does this Holden guy at the end even fit in with anything? Is it a Catcher in the Rye reference? What were the bar curfews like? What was the pop culture like in the ‘90s? The food? The fashions? What spurred this sudden change in Korea, and how was it like to witness this?
That's what my problem is with this book. The author witnessed such a major cultural shift, and all he has to show for it is a girl who says, “Kick ass,” thirty times a page.