4 out of 4 stars
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“His desire to play a role in restoring his nation’s honor was intense, and this desire carried him to a new world. His body shuddered with shame for his past life, and his soul trembled with rage against the aggressor that had invaded his land. Consumed with a flaming passion for his country, he was determined to redeem what had been lost or stolen, the splendor and the pride of his heritage.”
The Vanished presents a page of the rich Korean history, the period of the Japanese occupation. We follow Embon, son of the king’s niece, while Korea’s need to break from Japan’s influence deepens. His journey signifies the journey of an entire nation, marked by cruelty and injustice. His privileged status allows him to attend a prestigious university in Japan, where he meets a group of friends dedicated to restoring their nation’s greatness. You have the chance to experience the thrill and fear of the revolution by reading this unique novel.
Many characters appear to tell their tragic stories throughout the book. They come from different backgrounds (a banker, a maid, an independence activist), but the current situation makes them equal. One emotional episode presents a small child going into the streets to protest along with the adults while the policemen are randomly shooting. Because the book focuses on Embon, his character development is meaningful to the whole story. We see how he develops under an oppressed society and learns to adapt or revolt against the absurd rules.
The book uses first-person narration, but surprisingly, although Embon is the center of the story, his mother gets to tell it. I had no problem with it because I loved Lady Sougyon’s character. She was independent, intelligent, merciful, and very skilled at talking about men’s subjects in a time when women were regarded only as birth-givers. Speaking of this, I was pleased with the way the book evolved in regards to women. At first, the book presents offensive treatment to women, as was the tradition, but it evolves to acknowledge their worth and their importance in the revolution. One instance presents women as “exceptionally brave and capable.”
The immersion into the rich Korean culture and history felt like a breath of fresh air. I’ve never experienced a book that introduced me so much to a foreign culture. The beauty or wedding rituals are just some examples. Regarding the latter, I was shocked to find out the tradition in which the mother pours hot wax over the bride’s eyelids to make sure she won’t open her eyes during the ceremony. Another detailed cultural aspect is the Korean class system, which plays an essential role in the construction of their society. The book also captures a fruitful period when the eastern culture starts to blend with the western culture, introducing elements like sandwiches, which can lead to funny situations when elders are involved.
The cover made me recall my childhood because of the pink flowers. I didn’t know much about the book, which had a beautiful impact once I discovered all its richness. It offered me a better understanding of the power struggle in Asian countries. Some real historical events are captured in this book, like the March First Movement, giving it historical and educational value. The detailed descriptions made me feel like I was walking along the streets of Seoul. But most importantly, the book made me feel like I was the one oppressed that needed to fight, awakening some strong feelings in me.
The pace is fast, as I was engaged at all times and found it hard to stop reading, especially towards the end. Pejay Bradley uses a very diverse vocabulary that includes a lot of uncommon words, like “amass,” “leniency,” and “childrearing.” The book doesn’t have any profanity, but it does mention some violent scenes where people are killed or tortured. I would recommend it to people who love historical fiction, but I feel like it requires a sort of maturity to diggest this book, so it’s best for young adults and adults.
Although I highly enjoyed every part of this book, I can’t help but notice how many things were left unresolved. I have questions about what happened to the Japanese girl or the king’s infant daughter. It didn’t feel less intense, so I’m not going to take a star away for this. However, if these things bother you, I don’t recommend you this book. I encountered some editing errors, but they were minor and didn’t disrupt the flow of the book. Most of them consisted of missing letters that I would’ve probably never noticed had I not looked for them.
The ending left me craving for more. I immediately searched if the author has more books. I’m not exaggerating when I’m saying that this book rekindled my love for historical fiction, as most of the books I recently read were not satisfying enough. For that reason, I’m entitled to give The Vanished 4 out of 4 stars.
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