4 out of 4 stars
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I have never really been an enthusiast of the historical fiction genre. However, The Vanished: A Novel by Pejay Bradley has turned me not only into a lover of the book but also its literary category. Bittersweet, enthralling, informative, mature, and poignant are some attributes of The Vanished by Pejay Bradley; a must-read.
Set in the early 20th century, the book gives a historical, fictitious account of the way of life of the seemingly forgotten Korean upper class, particularly the yangban; well-educated elites that strive for lofty ideals and dignity in their way of life. The book is about the Koreans’ response to the annexing of Korea by Japan and the invasion of Korea by the Japanese during that time. There are several characters and separate storylines that run concurrently but ultimately overlap. However, the story generally centers on Embon, who we are introduced to as a baby at the beginning of the book. Embon’s mother, Lady Sougyon, is the daughter of a wealthy and powerful prince. Embon’s father is practically absent in his life, and he continuously extorts money from Embon’s mother; the only love that this kind, albeit miserable, lady experiences seems to come from her son, father, and brother. Accustomed to a life of ease and luxury, Embon’s world is turned upside down as he develops a friendship with fellow Korean elites during his time at university. These young men are willing to forsake all comfort, and even their own lives, to fight for the freedom of their beloved Korea from Japanese rule.
This novel transports you to another time, place, and culture. Despite the fiction tag, I liked the real historical information woven into the book. There are several themes that ran through it: patriotism, rebellion, love, manhood, loss, sacrifice, courage, and pain. There is a paradoxical nature to the lives of the characters present in the narrative: having outer wealth, yet inner emptiness and sorrow; outer constraints and struggle, yet enjoying inner freedom and dignity, etc. The characters are also interesting, unique, have depth, and personality.
I enjoyed the book, albeit it is ultimately a sad and bittersweet tale. The author is Korean, and so, there might be some bias in the depictions of her people versus those of the Japanese, but then again, this is a fictitious tale, despite its referencing actual events. I did not really like the ending of the book. I am guessing the author wanted to leave a few things open to interpretation, especially with the knowledge that the readers have of what became of Korea. However, I felt the ending was a bit of a cliffhanger that prevented a lack of closure for some characters in the book.
The book is professionally written, with barely any errors. The story is nicely structured, allowing for a fluid unveiling of the saga. I recommend this novel for any lovers of historical fiction, particularly that of an Asian focus. The book cover may look flowery, but there is a grittiness in the narrative with its focus on freedom, war, and masculinity that men would probably find appealing. It is a book that really would appeal to all, including mature children that enjoy weighty tales.
Poignant, original, interesting, excellently written; I find little to fault in The Vanished by Pejay Bradley. I give it 4 out of 4 stars.
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