4 out of 4 stars
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You think you're brave?
One afternoon, in the summer of 1912, a baby boy was born into a line of Korean royalties. Kim Embon, who was named after the words forest (Em) and prosperity (Bon), was the son of a daughter of a powerful prince.
It was early in the 20th century, when Korea was a picture of struggle and oppression—a result of Japan holding her by the neck. People of different genders and social classes, including Embon, navigate their way through this society that was not only plagued by the Japanese but also by problematic, old Korean traditions. Each of them has their own beliefs and will make good and bad decisions, but as a man born to a wealthy and powerful family, Embon is the most exceptional of them all. A person with so much privilege leaves everything and everyone behind to fight for the freedom of his country: this is his story.
The Vanished is a historical novel written by Korean author Pejay Bradley. It features the horrible effects of colonizing, old traditions, gender norms, social classes, and overall social injustice and violation of human rights. This book is best read by young adults and older who are not only interested in educating themselves in these matters but also in the activism born from them. People who want to learn about Korean culture and history are also welcome. However, readers should be aware of some sensitive contents: gore, torture, mutilation and burning of bodies, mass shooting, bombings, wars, poisoning, and deaths.
The Vanished has twenty-three chapters divided in four parts. This division helped distinguish the different sections of Embon's life: from his mother's background to the events that lead him to join the Korean Independence Movement. It's a straightforward move; it's unlike the complicated writing style that other authors pursue in the name of creativeness. It gives stops which make the parts of the story easier to remember. The author also used the first-person and third-person perspectives interchangeably. (The first-person perspective was narrated by Embon's mother.) All of these elements don't deter the story from having a smooth flow—it was still easy to follow.
The characters came from different sectors of the story's setting; this complexity and diversity added spice to the story. I especially loved Embon, his mother, and his grandfather. They came from a place of so much privilege, and yet they had progressive mindsets. Knowing that they lived in that kind of society in the early 20th century, it was difficult to not admire their silent rebellion. And although Embon came from a completely different background, I could relate to him in a lot of ways. Not only because we've both opened our eyes to the truth about the world, but also because of the common tragedies in life: loss, failed romantic relationships, education, realization of purpose, and absentee fathers. But most of all, I admire his strength and bravery that I can only aspire to have.
There are not a lot of bad things that can be said about this book. Perhaps only that, for me, it was more educating than entertaining. There were no crazy plot twists that would blow your mind, but this is coming from a reader whose life is pretty close to Embon's. It was also professionally edited, as I only found one typographical error. None of these things urged me to give the book a less-than-perfect score. Therefore, I give The Vanished a 4 out of 4 rating.
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