Title: Kim’s Memoir
Author: Young-Koo Kim
Genre: Memoir / Korean History
Kim’s Memoir is the passionately told story of a prominent Korean jurist, naval officer, professor, and scholar of international law who spent his life serving South Korea, in particular doing legal work to ensure the security of the country’s Northern Limit Line. Born into a Korea under Japanese occupation, the author is a firsthand witness to some of Korea’s greatest recent upheavals, including World War II, armistice agreements between South and North Korea, and landmark cases in the Korean justice system.
In his introduction, the author informs his audience that he is writing not only to document some of the watershed moments of his own life and to leave a legal record for future scholars, but also to encourage young people who have grown up desensitized to North Korea’s war crimes. He hopes to help the new generation continue fighting for democracy and human rights in both Koreas. Kim accomplishes his goals in a way that is neither dry nor preachy, and he offers up some memorable sentimental moments in this memoir as well.
The memoir begins at the start of Kim’s life, with the unforgettable account of the Korean civil war breaking out on the eve of the author’s thirteenth birthday. As an adult, Kim travelled throughout the Pacific and to America on military trips and lecture tours, acting as a museum director and featured professor at a variety of respected Korean universities along the way.
Readers will find insights on everything from naval officer training to UN committee procedure to the influence of the Reagan administration on democracy in Korea within the pages of this book. After the first 100 pages or so recounting Kim’s childhood and education, the memoir gets increasingly technical, going into detail about UN motions, academic disputes between law professors, and the particulars of armistice agreements. While this may be heavier reading for some, readers will be surprised by how lively and human Kim makes even the most intricate legal dispute.
The use of an adept translator has smoothed over many of the grammatical issues one would expect from an author writing in their second language, but some tense and wording issues still remain in this text. However, the author’s creative use of English opens up opportunities for new metaphors that give the account an unexpectedly poetic feel.
While some basic understanding of twentieth century Korean history may be useful to the reader, this book is written in an accessible enough voice that someone with virtually no knowledge of international law or politics could enjoy it. Details about daily life and cultural mores in a changing Korea are interwoven into the narrative in a naturalistic way that helps a non-native reader follow along with the story.
Kim’s Memoir retells the fascinating life of a man who knows himself well and knows how to recount the major events of his life in an insightful, even humorous way. Lovely color photos from the author’s own life and anecdotes about family life enrich this captivating story of a life lived in service to one’s country and to the rule of law. This unique gem of a book is sure to be enjoyed by history buffs and memoir enthusiasts alike, and it will serve as an important primary source document for legal scholars for years to come.
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