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Lost Names: Scenes from a Korean Boyhood

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  627 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
In this classic tale, Richard Kim paints seven vivid scenes from a boyhood and early adolescence in Korea at the height of the Japanese occupation, 1932 to 1945. Taking its title from the grim fact that the occupiers forced the Koreans to renounce their own names and adopt Japanese names instead, the book follows one Korean family through the Japanese occupation to the sur ...more
Paperback, 196 pages
Published June 10th 1998 by University of California Press (first published 1970)
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Sep 20, 2011 Maria rated it it was amazing
Shelves: asian-lit, reviewed
from my review

I collect books about Korean, and have read many novels, poems and non-fiction works, but Lost Names is certainly one of the best.

Small details and major characters both help to build an accurate, emotional depiction of Koreans and the struggle to live during the brutal Japanese occupation of World War II. I read this book in one sitting, mailed it to one of my sisters, and have bought a copy for another sister.

Some passages are humorous, and others are painfully sad..
Jan 11, 2009 Chrissie rated it it was ok
Shelves: kids, bio, hf, korea
Well, humph, what can I say? I am glad that is over. It reads like a child's book. A boy with tremendous wisdom, honor and valor saves the day when the family's Korean town is liberated from the Japanese at the conclusion of WW2! And the conclusion of the book. The adults in the village listen to the wise advice of the thirteen year-old as he explains how the liberation can most effectively be carried out in the town:

The police can be isolated, sir. Most of them are inside the station right now,
Tyler Hill
Oct 06, 2014 Tyler Hill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At once a beautiful series of interconnected stories forming a 13 year narrative and a historical record of life on the ground during the war-time occupation if Korea by Japan, this work by Richard Kim is accessible, touching, agonizingly human, and a terrific read for a chilly night of rest. I'm mesmerized by Kim's ability to convey such complex emotion and thought in his brief and colloquial style. Anyone interested in Korean history or in tales of survival and blossoming under oppression shou ...more
Sooho Lee
Jun 16, 2015 Sooho Lee rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Without giving a single name, Kim tells an enriching and personal story of one Korean family during the Japanese occupation to their liberation. One generation’s failure is another generation’s burden. But it is in bearing each other that a generation can reroute the perpetuate cycle of imprisonment.

cf. for more book reviews.
Peter Hutt Sierra
Nov 12, 2016 Peter Hutt Sierra rated it liked it
The story of a young Korean boy coming of age during the Japanese occupation of Korea.

This is by no means a bad book and is actually quite enjoyable. Nevertheless it's nothing exceptional. I feel like we should have gotten to know the protagonist more with all the material the book gives us. I can't point to anything the book did wrong, but having read a similar story in "Reading in the Dark" I know that this book could have been so much more. Maybe something was lost in the translation.
Mar 15, 2017 Christy rated it liked it
The book was meaningful to read since my grandfather grew up under the Japanese occupation; but besides the main character, the other people in the story weren't developed sufficiently enough for his interactions with them during critical moments to bear any lasting impression or deep resonance.

Meiling Syriac
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Cheryl Gatling
First the Japanese occupied Korea. They forbade the teaching of Korean language and history. They phased out Korean language newspapers and magazines. The Thought Police imprisoned and beat dissenters. They impressed young Koreans into the army (as "Special Volunteer Soldiers"). They forced farmers to sell their rice to Japan ("voluntary contribution to the national war effort for the glory of the emperor"). They forced schoolchildren to worship at a Japanese shrine to pray for the health of the ...more
Aug 06, 2009 Jon rated it liked it
Lost Names is the story of a people who have lost control of their destiny. It tells of the Japanese occupation of Korea as a series of snapshots into the way Koreans defied their Japanese oppressors on a daily basis in their everyday lives. Despite their best efforts, the most striking theme is just how little control the characters in the book have on the outcome. Korea is unable to overthrow Japan; only when outsiders come in to save the day are they freed. Some of the characters in Lost Name ...more
Apr 22, 2011 Nancy rated it liked it
Recommended to Nancy by: Sam
Shelves: fiction, sam-s
This was a book my son read in school - 10th grade English. It is about a boy (at least semi-autobiographical) growing up in Korea in the 1930s and 40s during the Japanese occupation of Korea. The title refers to the fact that Korean citizens had to give up their Korean names and take Japanese names. In the story, no one is ever called by a proper name. A couple of nicknames are referred to: "Pumpkin" for a school mate; "Chopstick" for a lanky teacher.

The story was compelling and, in some ways,
Apr 24, 2009 Manzoid rated it liked it
Reconstructed autobiographical account of a young boy growing up in annexed Korea from 1932 to 1945. The book's title stems from a chapter where all the Koreans in the boy's town are forced to take on Japanese names. That chapter includes a vivid scene where the townspeople troop to the cemetery to wail and prostrate themselves before their ancestors in shame at what they have just done to survive.

The material was worthwhile, offering an intriguing glimpse into this strange, often Kafkaesque per
Ryan O'Malley
Sep 29, 2016 Ryan O'Malley rated it it was ok
I was assigned this book in college, but this is not a college level book. The prose is painfully childish and cliche while the characters are merely 2-d trite tropes. Richard E. Kim has an addiction to the ellipsis, abusing the poor thing desperately trying to seem deeper than he really is. The author constantly refers to famous battles of WW2 that the characters happen to hear about even though they never hear about how the war is going. The concept was interesting and had huge potential, but ...more
May 08, 2016 Danata rated it really liked it
I had to read this book for my history of East Asia class, - which often ends up being a bad thing, - but not in this case.
Richard Kim's biographic story reveals the hardships, the extent of Japanese oppression in Korea during WWII. It does so emphatically, vividly, through small, but important details of everyday life. You will not grow to sympathize with the nameless characters, but you will grow to understand that there is no "Good" or "Evil". There is just life, and sometimes it can be extre
Mar 20, 2013 Lauren rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical, novels, 2013
A difficult book to categorize because as the author says himself, it is a fictional book that has become non-fiction in the minds of many people, and it is based from real events.

I enjoyed it, the main character wasn't an "Angel Child" but he also wasn't obnoxiously selfish. When the main character is a kid in a novel for adults, they tend to swing one way or another and here at least, this isn't the case.

I appreciate the day-to-day feeling, because while the memories are from different times
Rick Muir
Jul 12, 2007 Rick Muir rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fictionalized history fans.
First, it's hard to believe this book is fiction. It's set in a small village in Korea during the height of the Japanese occupation. The beautiful and painful details of day-to-day village life are so vivid and true. The book follows a young boy into his early adolescence under Japanese rule, through a period of time when the Korean people are forced to take on Japanese names instead of their own. The Japanese occupiers seem rather benign but the author (Richard E. Kim) manages to set an underly ...more
Alexander Nyirady
Nov 29, 2014 Alexander Nyirady rated it really liked it
Having read a lot of Biographies, Historical Fic, etc etc this book stood out significantly.

Narrated from the point of view of a young boy (who was also the author, Richard E. Kim) Lost Names is a book sharing the experiences of a young boy who went through the times of oppression under the Japanese during WW2. Most of the biographies I've read that were based around this time were more revolving around the war in Europe rather than Asia which is a nice change. Hands down, I would recommend thi
Adam Geisler
Oct 31, 2016 Adam Geisler rated it liked it
Started this book as a supplemental read for an Asian history class. It didn't grab me at the time, so I gave it another try recently. Kim uses simple, but effective language to portray one family's experience on the Korean peninsula during the Japanese occupation. The narrative is organized into seven moments that span several years. This could have been an interesting approach, but it actually came off as being a little too sparse. One of the novel's best qualities was its ability to convey th ...more
Christina Wang
Sep 16, 2015 Christina Wang rated it really liked it
My new favourite genre is historical-fiction memoirs. So informative and so personal. I loved getting to know the history of the people. Usually when learning about history one gets a general overview of the struggle that people faced and as a reader, I can only imagine the pain each individual person felt. However through Lost Names, Kim reveals every struggle the Korean people had to face during Japanese occupation. He describes the pain every single generation feels and what they must do to s ...more
Sarah Elizabeth
Apr 05, 2010 Sarah Elizabeth rated it really liked it
This was required reading for my college course: East Asian History. It was a class to fulfill a requirement, and I did not enjoy my professor at all. I didn't learn a thing, except from the required reading. This book is beautiful. It is not widely read nor is it a bestseller to my knowledge. However, it is a wonderful portrait of life during the Japanese occupation of Korea. It is very well-written, and it is also a surprisingly quick read. The book, as indicated by it's subtitle, follows a yo ...more
I am Cat。
This is particularly touching piece that's quite engaging and easy to keep reading. Normally I bore almost immediately with historical type novels or memoirs, but seeing the strength of these people through the eyes of a youth is what kept me going. What I really appreciated was the author's ability to retain his naivette recollections even though he comes to clearly understand some things as he ages. It really enables the reader to step into the author's shoes instead of reading a drab retellin ...more
Apr 30, 2011 Amik rated it it was amazing
Certainly a semi-biographical account worthy of a read by anyone interested in the Japanese occupation of Korea and Manchuria. For those with good knowledge of the events surrounding WWI and WWII, the book gives a unique perspective to many events and provides an engrossing read. You will find yourself thinking through history and re-positioning your perspective again and again throughout the book and finally find yourself in shoes that you never expected to be in. A wonderful journey of a book ...more
Oct 11, 2011 Jana rated it really liked it
Kim writes of a young boy growing up in northern Korea during WWII. He takes you through the injustice, the fear, the hunger, the sorrow of growing up in an occupied nation as a young boy, and the exultation yet concern of being suddenly set free with the end of World War II as a teenager. It's a lovely story, and I only wish he'd kept going to deal with the moments when North Korea became a state in its own and yet another war broke out. Oh, wait, he does. But, it's another book. (The Korean Wa ...more
Keodara Moua
May 25, 2014 Keodara Moua rated it really liked it
This little boy is taught with a generation of survivors. It's compassionate and honest with the love of human nature. Although many wars has encouraged killing, through the guidance of his father, this young boy grows up to understand the idea of how to love without hate and how accommodate to situations. If being weak made him stronger, he was willing to go through the pain. Lost Names has a little something everyone can grasp or even learn from. The word lost just means lost but also finding ...more
May 21, 2011 Renata rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I didn't really uunderstand what was going on at the beginning because I don't know anything about the war and stuff that was going on. But as it progressed I understood more of what was happening instead of understanding less and less. It really got my involved though. I like the characters and their connections to main character even if they came and went and didn't seem to have any reason to be there. I like it since its a real book to so it tells what really happened.
Charles Ellenbogen
Apr 30, 2010 Charles Ellenbogen rated it really liked it
This is a powerful book. I thought the small moments between nations, between family members, between children, etc. were more powerful than the deliberately drawn BIG moments. This is the kind of historical fiction I like. Kim narrows the lens and looks at one Korean family trying to live with Japanese occupation as a means to illuminate issues about colonization. It's a journey story, a coming-of-age story, and a history lesson. Read the author's note.
May 19, 2008 Isaac rated it liked it

Autobiographical tales of Korea under Japanese occupation - not brilliantly written or terribly surprising, but useful as history. Becomes a lot more interesting if you reflect that all of it, the suffering and depression and eventual joy at the liberation of the Korean homeland, takes place in what would ten years later become the DPRK. Becomes still more interesting if you reflect on the author's class, his well-connected father, and his surname.
Jan 29, 2014 Jessie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, fiction
This book is a must read! It was very interesting and very educational. I learned a lot of history that I wasn't really aware of until now. This book has many scenes that made me feel upset and hurt for the Koreans. The progression of the book is kind of fast paced, but I think that is best because Kim doesn't harp on unimportant details. Overall, this book is well written and moving and should be read by everyone!
Jun 28, 2007 Hannah rated it it was amazing
Shelves: booksiread
I read this in college for an anthropology class. Being a Korean American with parents who both survived the Korean War and the Japanese occupation, this book allowed me to ask questions and open up dialogs with my parents regarding the history of it all. The book paralleled very closely to my parents' experiences. The ending brought me to tears. It's hard to find a class text that brings you to tears like this one. ^^ Happy Reading!
Nov 04, 2012 Caitlin rated it really liked it
A good, uplifting read, if not maybe a bit idealized. (spoiler alert: Japan loses WWII?) Lingers just long enough on the more gruesome aspects of the occupation to give the appropriate level of suffering, but the boy comes from a place of privilege, so the novel does dodge what could be a far more terrible time.

Pretty intriguing time in history, but the novel reads almost too perfectly, like the plot of a Hollywood movie, for me to be completely in love with it.
Aug 22, 2012 Connie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: young-adult, korea
Set during the Japanese occupation of Korea, this story tells of one generation's shame for being preoccupied with individual survival (grandfather), another generation's failure to bring reforms before the country degenerated (father), and a new generation with the opportunity to learn from history and not make the same mistakes (son). This could be fiction or memoir. I appreciated the pacifist elements.
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