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3.89  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,297 Ratings  ·  104 Reviews
Dictée is the best-known work of the versatile and important Korean American artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. A classic work of autobiography that transcends the self, Dictée is the story of several women: the Korean revolutionary Yu Guan Soon, Joan of Arc, Demeter and Persephone, Cha's mother Hyung Soon Huo (a Korean born in Manchuria to first-generation Korean exiles), and ...more
Paperback, 179 pages
Published September 28th 2001 by University of California Press (first published 1982)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,484)
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From A Far
What nationality
or what kindred and relation
what blood relation
what blood ties of blood
what ancestry
what race generation
what house clan tribe stock strain
what lineage extraction
what breed sect gender denomination caste
what stray ejection misplaced
Tertium Quid neither one thing nor the other
Tombe des nues de naturalized
what transplant to dispel upon
I know I shall write a book, but not yet. I know it shall be experimental, political, and grotesque. I see myself gougin
Apr 29, 2014 twrctdrv rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ok, so the review thing up there says, "What did you think?" Hold on, I'll take a picture:

So what I should write in this review is what I thought of this book, right. Problem is, I don't know what to think. I was caught off guard with no clue what to think. Truly impenetrable, Dictee almost seems to be wholly against using language to communicate in the ways I'm used to. This of course is terribly disarming. I'm caught between complete confusion and a little unsettled. There is no comfort zo
Kate Savage
Sep 01, 2015 Kate Savage rated it liked it
Reading this wouldn't have been so hard if I hadn't built such high expectations for it. Trinh T. Minh-ha wrote about this fragmented, lyrical, unhinged exploration into Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's memories and family and gender and race. It seemed like everything I love, interspersed with French poetry and dedicated in turn to each of the nine muses.

"La langue dedans. La bouche dedans
la gorge dedans
le poumon l’organe seul"

But the reiteration of sentence fragments, mostly detached from scene or stor
Apr 18, 2015 Jane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
amazing book. sayumi takahashi characterizes this text as an artist's book, a genre employed by artists (not poets, though in my head there's little difference) to defy the book's limitations and to challenge the codex's colonial history, typifications, and material violence. a friend argues that dictee's conception of the self is liberal, i.e. that there's a self underneath social constraints and limitations placed upon it, that our selves do not falter as a tangible entity given external force ...more
Oct 07, 2010 Dusty rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Dusty by: Julia Lee
Either Theresa Hak Jyung Cha has written a book of gibberish -- narrative, poetry, movie stills, personal documents, family photos, Japanese characters, Korean history, Greek mythology, all intermixed, their correlation unexplained -- or she has written a book so profound it defies human interpretation.

I'm inclined to believe the latter.

Many people have tried to read Cha's "poetics" against those of other authors, like Maxine Hong Kingston, but the book Dictee most reminds me of is Gloria Anza
Adam Dalva
Mar 15, 2016 Adam Dalva rated it liked it
It was difficult to get a handle on this, either because it's (a) above my intellectual pay-grade, (b) designed to resist easy interpretation, or (c) just not particularly good. I don't think (c) is right, because I read happily and quickly, but I found myself on shaky ground a lot of the time.

Now, DICTEE a lot of things at once and in some ways, I thought it was best when (predictable fiction writer statement coming) it was diving fully into the experimental (loved the incorporated art) or hewi
Sep 27, 2015 PATRICK rated it liked it
I understand the fuss for Dictee but I felt like I'm too stupid for it. Will reread it before I report on it on Friday.
Nov 11, 2011 Derek rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Aug 01, 2007 Christine rated it it was amazing
I'm not sure I would have entered the text the same way without the help of genius post-colonnialist critic Tomo Hatori. Anyone know him? His voice is so soothing, I wanted always to sleep in his class, a painful thing because he was one of the best instructors I've ever had, and every missed ten minutes meant missing something good--something important and moving and insightful. He brought me to this wonderfully creative, challenging book. I read it about nine years ago in that class and I thin ...more
Christina Nicole
Apr 27, 2014 Christina Nicole rated it liked it
The novel Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha is a work of extreme complexity, a work that finds itself entangled with the narratives of many women. It is a piece that transcends a fixed sense of self to reach toward a collective sense of existence. Divided into sections, the stories of many women weave together behind the sections titled by the names of Greek muses, bringing a sense of inspiration and awe to the hardships overcome within the text. Through the text, the reader also becomes a partici ...more
Jan 09, 2016 Chaneli rated it it was amazing
I'm in complete awe of this book! Dictee is an experimental memoir and work of fiction. Cha uses a hybrid of genres combining narrative, poetry, family photos and form. The conversations of war, history, experince of being an immigrant, the playfulness of language, Cha's mother and Yu Guan Soon are both a huge part of this work.

Dictee left me speechless and I have no words to describe its brilliance. I'm just so happy I read it and it's not one if my favorites (:
May 20, 2013 Charles rated it it was amazing
I wrote a review of this book in 1987 for Gargoyle Magazine, not knowing what it would become. I praised it, fortunately, because it is now a greatly respected poem-autobiography-memoir-history-political commentary novel of much depth and subtlety. It's ostensible subject is Korea in the years of occupation by Japan; it's style and method is late Modernist. What I know is based on the first edition (Tannam Press). I haven't looked, but I don't suppose there are differences.
Dec 28, 2007 W.B. rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
A masterpiece. How she died was unbearably cruel and unbelievably strange...what was it...the day after this book came out? On the street by a stranger's brutal hand? Intolerable to think of's too punishing...and the work is so humane, so transcendently beautiful, trying (in an almost Promethean gesture) to heal the pain history inflicts on the individual.
Nov 13, 2008 Ethan rated it liked it
It's not a normal book.

Imagine if you had to literally turn yourself into a book (not just a story, a book). What would be in it? Pictures? Poems? Drawings? This is a very difficult read, and leaves you with more of a feeling than memory of a narrative. Maybe check it out at the library.
May 14, 2011 Michael rated it it was amazing
This book defies genre and description. Like many great works of art, this book is a stimulating, intellectual, and emotional experience of the inexplicable language of identity and being. It is sad, disturbing and gorgeous.
Carolyn Hembree
Aug 10, 2014 Carolyn Hembree rated it it was amazing
This book was a game changer for me. Hybridity before it was the thing -- told me I could define what to put in my manuscript. And I could call the genre (or not). God, why did we lose this brilliant writer so young.
Patrick Gaughan
Jan 08, 2015 Patrick Gaughan rated it it was amazing
In Dictee, the pronoun 'she' becomes a single voice merges multiple female voices across time and race. Cha mixes her own staccato, minimal style with quotations from marriage announcements, personal letters, parables, and close readings of films to create a kaleidoscopic portrait of women encountering and coping with struggle. The takeaway here is nothing much has changed: the roles of women remain concentric circles unable to break the cycle. The most impressive aspect of the work is Cha's tex ...more
Carrie Chappell
The Erato/ Love Poety section is wonderful.
Nov 29, 2015 Kris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The women in Dictee are connected through suffering and/or martyrdom and many of them seem to confront time, trying to wait suffering out. A certain passage that I believe is about Cha herself suggests dealing with or trying to confront time through writing. There's also a lot of confused tense, perhaps to show disorientation in language from geographic displacement, as well as referring back to this concept of "displacing" time.

A lot of phrases repeat throughout the book--words and im
Angela Rodriguez
An artistic, literary work of diction and prose, Dictée fuses together the historical and autobiographical to tell the story of Korean women during the Korean War and their journey to the United States. Through the fragment of poetry, photographs, and language, Cha unsettles the linear progression of the conventional novel to distort the image and identity of the subject—a shift that seems to imply movement within a particular culture, establishing the idea of identities as being embedded in oth ...more
Aug 03, 2011 Matthew rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There is a lot of interesting and experimental, but the biggest problem that I found is that it is not very memorable. I mean that literally, because I often found myself re-reading chapters and passages that I honestly did not remember until I got halfway through the section.

That said, I really liked Astronomy and Tragedy. The things that Cha did with poetry, memory, and storytelling in general are things that were very modernist and could probably have developed into something that everyone wo
Feb 03, 2010 Linda rated it really liked it
Dictee might best be read as a classroom assignment where the composition can be dissected and discussed, perhaps bringing enlightenment to the uncomprehending (that would be me). I liked the format, the layers ... it might take some rereading, delving and getting used to in order to actually gain a knowledge of the author's thought process and full intent. Also ... I'm reading along and suddenly the page sequence goes from 118 back to page 87, continuing up to page 118 and then skips from 118 t ...more
Feb 08, 2009 Julene rated it really liked it
Recommended to Julene by: Deborah Woodard
Shelves: poetry
I read this book for a class I'm taking on prose poetry. Theresa Hak Kyung Cha was raped, strangeled and murdered right after she received the finished proofs for her book. She was on her way to an art opening of her work. She was 31 years old. Because she was also a visual artist and her family have persisted, her work has lived on. The first 20 pages are difficult to read, but keep pushing forward. Once she gets into the the next section about her grandmother's exile into China and the history ...more
Aug 07, 2012 Kat added it
It is interesting how and why the author lists the nine Greek muses and structures her story around them. The Greek muses are responsible for artistic inspiration. She is deeply concerned with how reading and speaking are powerful tools for humanity. Her book focuses on speech and language and how even though it is painful and sometimes dangerous to speak, it is even more damaging not to speak at all. Silence of the native tongue is the death of an individual’s identity. The nine muses in her bo ...more
Lola Wallace
looking back on this review three years later, having never reread the book but having just read the chapter on it in Juliana Spahr's Everybody's Autonomy... one of the top reviews here says that the book just isn't very memorable. it's true that I remember almost nothing about the content of Dictee, but I remember quite viscerally how it felt to me. and of course I remember the structure, which is maybe what I'm talking about. I remember it the way I remember certain paintings or performances I ...more
Aug 14, 2007 cristiana rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: cinema-o-philes, those interested in post colonial studies, poets
if dictee isn't necessarily enjoyable to read, it's a profound read. one comes to the first page of the book w/ a quote from sappho, although its authorial legitimacy is up in the air. the reader (or more appropriately, the viewer) is left to piece together a sort of anti-novella text, collaged with documents and images. christian metz is a must-read, as well as the theory behind the cinematic apparatus, and lacan's idea of jouissance, if the viewer/reader wants to understand cha's intentions fo ...more
Kevin C
May 25, 2014 Kevin C rated it it was amazing
We needn't consider ways that part from the old ones. We need to consider every way that parts of the old ones. Ruefully slain at a young age, there is not much to read by Cha. She as eloquent as she is insightful. She is a master of memory and non-linearity. Nine Greek Faiths guide this prose piece, which at first reading seems to be an early hybrid text, but it is so much more. She is a demanding writer, but she gives so much.
Nena F
Aug 19, 2015 Nena F rated it did not like it
I have never hated a book as much as I have hated this book. It is absolutely ridiculous. I am so not about pretending that something is art simply because it is difficult, absurd, and impossible to understand. I only read this because my instructor (whom I hated btw) required it. Reading this and having to write about it was a complete waste of time and effort.
Jul 24, 2014 Elisabeth rated it liked it
Honestly, I can't read any more. It's giving me a headache. It's beautiful, and I love about two pages in Thérèse's passage, but the rest of it... I'm not very good (at all) with imagining the visuals that authors try to convey, and this book conveys a lot of its ideas through visuals, so I found this rather torturous. Really, I would have preferred this as an indie film.
Aug 12, 2015 Nicole rated it it was amazing
I will never understand this text-- and it's not meant to be understood. This is the most perfect, profound piece of writing to date (aside from Joyce, perhaps) that fully encompasses the feeling of exile, communication, womanhood, and spirituality. This text is one to read over and over, always with new discovery.
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2015 Reading Chal...: Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha 1 8 Jun 28, 2015 07:22PM  
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Most famous for her experimental memoir/novel, Dictee, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha is a Korean American writer, filmmaker and performance artist. She was born in Pusan, Korea, during the Korean War, but relocated with her parents to San Francisco, California. The interdisciplinary nature of Dictee, which combines narrative, poetry, movie stills, family photos and an array of other genres and forms, and ...more
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“I have the documents. Documents, proof, evidence, photograph, signature. One day you raise your right hand and you are American. They give you an American Pass port. The United States of America. Somewhere someone has taken my identity and replaced it with their photograph. The other one. Their signature their seals. Their own image. And you learn the executive branch the legislative branch and the third. Justice. Judicial branch. It makes the difference The rest is past.” 2 likes
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