Five books I read while serving in the Republic of Korea Armed Forces

Daniel Ta Hyun Lee shares his five favourite reads

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee published by Riverhead Books. Courtesy Penguin Random House
On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee published by Riverhead Books. Courtesy Penguin Random House

My time serving in the Republic of Korea Armed Forces would not have been the same without the many books I read. From a heartbreaking story of a mixed-race family to an important chapter in South Korean history that isn’t spoken about often, here are my favourite tales.

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee (2014)

This novel imagines a dystopian North America that has been divided into labour colonies. The protagonist, Fan, a young diver, decides to embark on a journey beyond the colony when her boyfriend disappears. It is full of beautiful prose by Chang-rae Lee, who imagines a future reflecting upon class, identity and society.

The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm (1956)

I found a lot of gems in the library at my base, and The Art of Loving is one of them. Written by psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm, the book is not a mere “how to”. Fromm writes about human nature and how the concept of love operates within society. The tome discusses a handful of ideas, ranging from religion and parenthood to self-value and modernity.

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami (2014)

I remember reading this book on my midnight guard shifts. Reading Murakami at 2am is an experience I will never forget. This title is a collection of short stories that is an example of the author’s prowess with a dark and voyeuristic aesthetic. This is an intriguing portrait of abject men who reflect upon themselves in relation to the women in their lives.

Haunting the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy, and the Forgotten War by Grace Cho (2008)

The book tracks how the trauma of sexual violence committed by American forces in South Korea has affected the Korean diaspora that lives in the US today. I first came across the book during class at NYU, and was blown away by the stories that were seldom discussed in South Korean history.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014)

A friend travelled to my base to visit me during my time there, and this book was one of the two he gave me to read. The grappling novel is the author’s first, and is about a mixed-race Chinese-American family whose middle daughter, Lydia, is found drowned in a lake. The story explores race, identity and familial ties. Heartbreaking and dramatic, the book plays out like a film.

Daniel Ta Hyun Lee is an intern at The National

Published: June 21, 2019 01:14 PM


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