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When My Name Was Keoko

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Sun-hee and her older brother Tae-yul are proud of their Korean heritage. Yet they live their lives under Japanese occupation. All students must read and write in Japanese and no one can fly the Korean flag. Hardest of all is when the Japanese Emperor forces all Koreans to take Japanese names. Sun-hee and Tae-yul become Keoko and Nobuo. Korea is torn apart by their Japanese invaders during World War II. Everyone must help with war preparations, but it doesn’t mean they are willing to defend Japan. Tae-yul is about to risk his life to help his family, while Sun-hee stays home guarding life-and-death secrets.

199 pages, Paperback

First published March 18, 2002

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About the author

Linda Sue Park

55 books1,020 followers
Linda Sue Park is a Korean American author of children's fiction. Park published her first novel, Seesaw Girl, in 1999. To date, she has written six children’s novels and five picture books for younger readers. Park’s work achieved prominence when she received the prestigious 2002 Newbery Medal for her novel A Single Shard.

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5 stars
2,580 (39%)
4 stars
2,728 (41%)
3 stars
1,045 (15%)
2 stars
180 (2%)
1 star
71 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 991 reviews
Profile Image for hal .
771 reviews108 followers
November 23, 2016
This book had been sitting on my TBR list for ages. Even when I finally checked it out of the library it took weeks for me to actually start reading it. But I decided to start it today, and I'm so glad I did.

I connected to this book on a personal level that no book have ever been able to achieve for me. My paternal grandmother is Korean. She grew up in Seoul during WW2, and I remember her telling me stories about how she had to help with war preparations at school as a child. Reading about Sun-hee's experiences, which were similar, just reminded me of my own grandmother.

There were times I was close to tears, because this book just reminded me of my heritage in a way no book has ever done before. And the last sentence of the book, where Sun-hee begins to teach Tae-yul Hangul (the Korean alphabet)? Dear lord, that just hit me hard emotionally.

I think if I wasn't of Korean descent, my rating would be much lower. I admit, the writing can be dry at times and the characters aren't the most lovable (although I did like Sun-hee. Tae-yul was alright, but I didn't like him as much). But since I am, I just connected to this book on such a personal level. It inspired a deep pride in my Korean heritage and really, this is something no book has ever done for me before. So, I say this to the author Linda Sue Park:

Thank you.
April 23, 2010
Linda Sue Park expertly narrates the fictional story of her mother's experience with the Japanese occupation of Korea during World War 2. She meshes actual historical events with her own story to help the reader imagine what a typical Korean family went through while under Japanese rule. As a history teacher, this story was particularly interesting to me, since WW2 told from the Korean perspective is not something that is widely known. This part of Korean history is often discarded from history books, especially those in Japan. These events played an important role in Parke's Korean heritage and was evident in her writing. She describes how all Koreans were forced to take on Japanese names, speak, read and write in Japanese, and unwillingly adopt the Japanese culture while discarding their own. The actions the characters in the story took to protect their culture deomonstrated how far the cruelty of the Japanese had driven them. The events in this story had me captivated and even offered a brief history lesson. I would recommend this novel to any high school history or english teacher.
Profile Image for Tammie.
345 reviews580 followers
August 6, 2021
This absolutely should be mandatory reading in America and taught in schools, especially in conjunction with education regarding the subsequent US military occupation in Korea (and American imperialism in general). Granted, I'm not American so I don't know how much is actually taught in schools, but I'm willing to bet it's not enough. Either way, this is a fantastic middle grade historical novel that I think does exactly what it sets out to do - it offers a very honest look at the Japanese occupation of Korea from the lens of two children, and I think the delivery of a general overview of the history through a more personal narrative is incredibly effective and heartbreaking.
Profile Image for The Artisan Geek.
445 reviews7,251 followers
March 27, 2016
I haven't read such a touching and good book in a while. Beautifully written. This is the first book I've ever read that isn't about the western world, which baffles me as I come to think of it. It has definitely made me eager to read more of this kind.
Profile Image for Philip.
973 reviews258 followers
November 3, 2014
This might top out my list of possible 7th grade social studies books. It's very good, and ties in with the Indiana Standards really well.

I'm finding more and more YA literature that deals with Pre-WWII Japanese Imperialism. While I feel like - in general - Americans are still primarily focused with the European Theater, I'm sensing a shift with the distance that is now between us and the events.

We do a colonization simulation in class, in which the students create 4 cultures. One is smaller, the rest are larger. The larger ones have a surplus of natural resources. They all alter their style of dress, come up with a cheer, and create a flag.

Then the smaller one (with superior weapons) comes and colonizes the larger, destroying their culture - they tear up the original flag and replace it with one the colonizer's flags. (Students - especially ones who put a lot of time into the symbolism and art in the flag don't really enjoy this part...) They have to give their natural resources up. They have two choices, fight or surrender. If they fight, they die. (Symbolic deaths, the school system in which I work frowns upon killing students - even as an appropriate object lesson.)

In the simulation, the colonizers represent Europe - mostly because of the vastness of the British Empire - but also because of the brutality of the Belgians, the Netherlands in Indonesia, the French in Vietnam and much of Africa... etc...

Here are some things that stuck with me from this book:

The Japanese tore down and outlawed Korean flags.
The Korean language was outlawed.
Koreans had to take Japanese names.
The Rose of Sharon - Korea's national symbol and flowering tree was torn up, and replaced by the Cherry Tree - Japans national symbol and flowering tree.

The book is good. It doesn't gloss over history, but it doesn't dwell on the horrors of the past, either - which makes it ideal for a middle school read.
Profile Image for Erin.
232 reviews103 followers
June 20, 2012
3.5 stars

When My Name Was Keoko is an immersive look into Korean life during World War II.

I had only gotten a few pages into this book when I had to confront myself on my own stupidity-- why did I not know that Korea had been occupied by Japan in the early 20th century? I just took a Japanese literature course that briefly dealt with history, as well. You'd think I would know this.

The reality of having your culture stamped down by a stronger country is presented here with no melodrama or vilifying. What this book most powerfully showed, in my opinion, is that it's the little things that matter. The Koreans weren't systematically rounded up and tortured/killed, but their language was banned. Their names were changed. Their national tree was uprooted and burned. The people of Korea didn't even know how to read or write in their own alphabet. It's all of this that comes together and creates an oppressive atmosphere, even though the Korean people were physically safe.

There is an alternating narration here, switching between Korean siblings Sun-hee and Tae-yul. It took me a while to warm up to Tae-yul, but overall I think the author (who also wrote A Single Shard) was successful in showing how the brother and sister are different but the same, and I ended up loving them both.

I won't say very much about the plot, because it stacks up so neatly and naturally that it's hard not to spoil. What I mean by that-- the last section of this book just floored me with how intense and heartbreaking and horrifying it was, but it didn't come out of nowhere. It was, again, the little things that led up to it. So, here's the bare bones of the story: A Korean family struggles to secretly hold on to their own culture in the face of Japanese threats. The siblings' Uncle is the strong Korean nationalist, the one who likes to endanger himself and speak his mind. In many different ways, the plot revolves around the family's attempts to keep their Uncle safe. And these attempts lead somewhere, to the ending that I had no idea was coming for me.

3.5 stars may not seem like that great of a rating, but don't let the star count deceive you. I had to limit my rating because the book was too obviously aimed at children, so it couldn't give me everything I wanted. But I think that for readers of any age, When My Name Was Keoko will educate you, surprise you, and involve you. It's a powerful and short read.
Profile Image for Ghazaleh.
159 reviews107 followers
October 11, 2017
نمیدونم درسته یا غلط، اما شن��دم که نویسنده این کتاب رو براساس داستان زندگی والدینش نوشته.
خب من عاشق کتاب هاییم که مرتبط با جنگ هستند، اما این داستان به چند دلیل جذابیت خیلی زیادی برام نداشت. یکی اینکه به نظرم باید برای گروه سنی نوجوانان انتخاب میشد چون زبان خیلی ساده ای داشت و به نظر شخصی من برای اون سن جذابیت بیشتری داشت تا بزرگسالان. دوم اینکه دو سوم ابتدایی کتاب واقعا اتفاق خیلی خاصی نمیفتاد که درگیر داستان بشی، بلکه فقط زندگی روزمره آدم هایی رو به قلم در آورده بود که درگیر جنگ هستند و این کمی حوصله سر بر بود، شاید باید هیجان بیشتری وارد داستان میشد تا گیرایی داشته باشه، اما شما فقط کتاب رو دست میگیرید و به خوندن ادامه میدید و ادامه میدید و قصه ی یکنواختی رو میشنوین.
و از نکات مثبت کتاب میتونم به این اشاره کنم که داستان از زبان دو شخصیت بیان میشه و قطعا اگر همه داستان از زبان یک نفر بیان میشد به شخصه کتاب رو همون اوایل کنار میگذاشتم چون دیگه خیلی حوصله سر بر میشد.
اول تصمیم داشتم دو ستاره به کتاب بدم اما درنهایت به خاطر یک سوم انتهایی کتاب یک ستاره اضافه کردم، اما این به خاطر این نیست که یک سوم انتهایی خیلی هیجان انگیز باشه، بلکه فقط همه اتفاقات توی قسمت های آخر بیان میشن و توی همین قسمت ها هم تموم میشن، درحالی که نویسنده میتونسته بدون این همه مقدمه چینی از اول شروع به گفتن این اتفاقات کنه.
و در نهایت با اینکه اسم کتاب جالبه اما اگر من بودم اسم یکی دیگه از شخصیت هارو برای عنوان انتخاب میکردم.
Profile Image for Paula Soper.
820 reviews
March 28, 2017
AND, I taught it!

First read: I want to teach this book. I want to teach this book. I want to teach this book.

I've decided that I'm tired of WWII units only being about Hitler and the Holocaust. I suggest that teachers bring in books about Stalin (like Between Shades of Grey and how Hirohito demanded the Japanese soldiers treat the Koreans (this book)). Obviously other stuff that I haven't thought of should also be taught.

This book gives a fascinating view of daily life for a Korean girl and her family under the Japanese regime.

Drugs - No
Sex - No
Rock and Roll - Fascinating historical and social details
Violence - Some
Language - No
Profile Image for Nichole.
112 reviews8 followers
February 9, 2009
This book falls into a category of books to which I have referred several times in the past: enjoyed post-book club.

When I read it through, my initial reaction what that it was nice; it was a nice story about a girl, her brother, and how her family coped with the war. It was only after I attended the book club discussion that the intricacies of the story came to life. The discussion helped me to understand in my heart what I already understood in my head (thanks ladies).

This story focuses on “the other side” of WWII; it focuses on the conflict between Korea and Japan. I was fascinated by the views and struggles that this young girl had and endured and how they could be similar to many which I can have today…in New Mexico. This just goes to show that people are people: we all try do to the best we can and make decisions which we feel are the best for us at that time. And in life, for what more could you ask?
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 30 books5,628 followers
July 24, 2009
An enthralling look at life in Korea under Japanese occupation. I had no idea that, before WWII even started, the Koreans were living under harsh Japanese rule. Everything was taken from them: their language, culture, wealth, status, even their names. This book moves back and forth between a brother and sister, each striving to maintain their Korean identity in different ways. Lots of great detail about everyday life, as well as a look at the highlights of the war.
Profile Image for Dawn Michelle.
2,330 reviews
August 31, 2016
This book was amazing. There is so much history here - history that I was totally unaware of. I had no idea that Japan occupied Korea at one time and occupied in a very brutal way. This story is told simply in a dual POV of a brother and sister and their lives during the occupation of Japan and then the war with the United States.

Very well done and I highly recommend this book to anyone.
Profile Image for Barb Middleton.
1,685 reviews124 followers
February 19, 2013
Writing reviews is like skipping a flat stone across a lake. At least for me. Sometimes the rock whirls like a Frisbee and I'm excitedly counting out loud each skip along the surface. Other times it hits the water with a thunk and sinks immediately with me quickly releasing another one to cover up my fuddy-duddy toss. Writing can be like that for some authors. A hit or miss. Then there are others who are so good at their craft they just fling rocks like Frisbees in rapid succession. I would put Linda Sue Park in the latter category. Her books are terrific.

Ten-year-old Sun-hee lives with her parents and brother in Korea during World War II with the Japanese occupying their land. The Koreans cannot speak their language, hold positions of power, grow the national tree in their yards, fly the Korean flag, etc. As World War II progresses, more is taken from the Koreans and they can no longer get rice or meat. Sun-hee's brother joins the war knowing the family will get more food, but an unexpected turn puts his life more in peril than being directly in battle.

Linda Sue Park alternates between two main characters points of view: Sun-hee uses first person past tense, while her brother, Tae-yul, uses first person present tense. Sun-hee begins with complaints of not being told anything because she is a girl. She views her brother as being disrespectful for not answering her questions but in the next chapter Tae-yul writes from his point of view, saying his sister is annoying with her questions and we find out that he doesn't know the answer which is why he says disrespectfully, "It's none of your business." The alternating viewpoints give multiple perspectives allowing the author to go out of the narrow confines of writing in first person that allows for only one person's thoughts. Using both viewpoints gives a more complete picture of their family and the war situation.

The tense shift mirrors the personality of the characters. Sun-hee is quiet and reflective and writes in the past tense which is more introspective; she's looking back at her experience. Whereas, Tae-yul is more impulsive and the present tense adds to the drama and action of his story. Sun-hee's uncle has gone into hiding and she keeps a journal that she wants to give to him when she sees him again. I went back and read only Sun-hee's chapters and they do stand alone, telling most of the story. Tae-yul fills in the blanks as to what happened to uncle and himself in the war. The journal shows how Sun-hee changes from an insecure young girl who is jealous of all the attention her brother gets for being a boy to a sister who is a confidante and trusted with Tae-yul's motive for volunteering to fight in the war. At the end, she even entertains Tae-yul's idea that she become a scholar. Tae-yul's story gives supporting details and depth to the story but isn't complete like Sun-hee's. It adds depth and rounds out the story.

I kind of wanted Tomo's viewpoint. The story is slanted toward the Americans and the Japanese are one-dimensional except for Tomo. He shows them as real people. Tomo is Sun-hee's best friend in the beginning but then they go to middle school and they no longer hang out. I missed his presence. There is a propaganda movie that is shown in middle school and afterwards Tomo and his friends are pretending to kill the Americans. Tomo shows some humanity or boundaries by saying they wouldn't kill babies, but if we could have gone into his mind it could have shown his turmoil at having a best friend who is Korean and thoughts on war. Later, Tomo tries to warn Sun-hee but it is cryptic and she struggles to decipher his meaning. Tomo seems like a decent kid and his father probably was too. Perhaps more of the Japanese family would have balanced it out. Or perhaps Tae-yul should have had a Japanese friend. Park does show at the end that there are no winners in war.

The plot has some interesting twists such as Mrs. Ahn. The only loose end is answered in the Author's Note so make sure you read it. The characters all change from the father and mother to the children and made me engrossed in the storyline. I did wonder about the father and how he got the articles to the uncle. It seemed to contradict that no one knew where uncle was hiding and I would have liked an explanation regarding it.

Obviously, I'd like to skip stones more than sink them and this only takes practice. I decided to keep track of how much I read and write per month. In the book, Outliers, it says something to the effect that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. If I go by that number it will take me 40 years before I get good at this thing. Better up the writing time or you won't get an excellent review until I am in my 90s.

Reading Level 5.0

Fountas and Pinnell: Y

17 reviews2 followers
June 20, 2007
This is a really gripping read about the Japanese occupation of Korea told from the point of view of a girl named Sun Hee beginning in 1940. Excellent historical fiction by Linda Sue Park, and I'd argue more accessible (at least for adults) because it's such recent history. Kitefighters is also excellent about 14th century Korea, and I'm working on A Single Shard, another way back historical fiction book. Linda Sue Park has this great way of incorporating information that the average American might not know into the text so that you don't feel silly not knowing your history or Korean culture very well. When My Name Was Keoko is a quick read. Good read for anyone at a fourth/fifth grade reading level or higher.
Profile Image for Jerry.
3 reviews
May 8, 2018
Score- 77/100

Enjoyment- 14/20

Characters- 9/10

Plot- 19/25

Setting- 10/10

Literary Value- 5/10

Importance- 8/10

Theme- 8/10

Mechanics- 5/5

When My Name Was Keoko is a well-crafted exploration of what life was like during the Japanese occupation of Korea during World War II. Sue Park brings a wonderful historical aspect to the novel, however, the plot and characters are both somewhat lacking. All in all, though it has its faults, it is a good idea that is executed well and comes somewhat recommended. The plot of When My Name Was Keoko seems somewhat as though the author set a low bar, but achieved it. The book is about one family specifically, and it follows them through their day to day life as they struggle under the Japanese occupation. We see the Japanese get stricter and stricter as the book rolls on and we conversely see how Keoko's family resists in small ways against the occupation. At first, their life seems fairly normal, before the war seems to start really going for the Japanese and resources are diverted from the Koreans (or, outright taken from them) and sent for the war effort. In one specific scene, the Japanese demand all objects of all metal of any sort be handed over. Many of these objects are prized possessions; they are melted down and made into airplane parts. Keoko is a young girl and is a bit of an atypical heroine. It is through her diary that we learn much of her inner thoughts and feelings and several important plot points are revealed to her and to the readers through her snooping on the after-dinner conversation. Tae-Yul, her brother, is fascinated by mechanical things, airplanes especially, and joins the Japanese youth air corps because of this. He is an interesting character arc, joining as a kamikaze pilot with the intention of sabotaging his own mission. Through luck alone, he survives his mission, and returns home, though, for a while, his family believes him dead All of this takes place against a masterfully crafted backdrop of wartime Korea and Japan. We see the setting change too (not physically per se but in tone) as the tide of the war shifts and changes in Japan's favor and out of it. People are making necessary cutbacks and it shows in the changes on the streets of the town. The school as well plays an important role, as it changes from a fairly normal school to what more resembles a military academy, training students to bayonet dummies and forcing them to fill sandbags. Propaganda becomes more prevalent as the war rages, as Japan clearly wants to turn public opinion in Korea towards supporting Japan in the war.

FOOTNOTES: Cross-posted on my blog: scaird.exposure.co
Profile Image for Becky.
807 reviews78 followers
March 16, 2013
This is probably going to be another one of those "personal reflection" kind of posts, rather than an actual book review.
The book deals a lot with what it means to be Korean, especially as opposed to being Japanese. At one point Sun-hee gets worried, because she knows Americans can't tell the difference between a Japanese person and a Korean one on sight. The funny thing is that I kind of related. Everyone in England thinks I'm American until I tell them otherwise. So I am left thinking about the construction of identity and how it relates to nationality as a whole. Similarly, in the end of the book the Americans come. Sun-hee doesn't say very much about them, but she does talk about how they smile a lot. She also comments on how they honk their horns to clear the road, but also when two American jeeps pass by each other they honk and wave. She says it seems friendly enough, but it's loud. It's always interesting to see something I take as commonplace represented as alien. And even though I'm not American, and I generally don't like to be associated with Americanism, I felt a surge of affection at this familiarity.
Basically, the more I travel the more I find my identity tied up in the fact that "I am Canadian" even though what "Canadian" is tends to be little more than a conglomeration of American and British. (It turns out lots of things I would use to separate Canada from the USA are also things that the British claim as being "very British." And lots of things I use to separate myself from the British, connect me to Americans.) But this doesn't change the fact that the longer I am away from Canada, the more proud I become to be Canadian. We have problems, there's not doubt. But it hurts me to see my friends on Facebook who've never left Canada for longer than a month or two for holiday criticize Canada so intensely. They claim a knowledge of politics and economics, but I don't think they really have a grasp on what it means to be Canadian.
All that to say, young people should travel, and the book is worth reading.
Profile Image for Lauren.
31 reviews
March 18, 2017
I read this book because it was required for my class. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It was so interesting to see World War II from the point of Korean youth. As an American, I had only heard about what happened in Germany during World War II, and it was eye-opening to see the impact that America had on the Japanese and Korean people. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, or anyone who is wanting to read a story from a different perspective than most other books.

I would definitely want to teach this in my classroom. It would be great to teach this novel while the students are learning about WWII in their history class. This way, they could not only learn about Hitler, but also HiroHito. If possible, I would like to include other novels or documents that show the characteristics of Stalin and Mussolini. I think that this would be eye-opening to students, and it would give them a greater understanding of the impact that WWII had on the world.

Drugs: none
Sex: none
R&R: Japanese and Korean Culture
Violence: War and physical violence such as beatings
Language: none
12 reviews
November 27, 2018
This book is probably on of my favorites! The story of Sun-hee and Tae-yul living in Japan-ruled Korea was beautifully written, with different narratives written by the two siblings. The way that the two fight the Japanese secretly and learn different lessons was brilliantly written, as if both of the characters were actually writing about their lives.
I also loved the ending, (I'm not going to spoil it!) as the author places the last moment in the book. If you love to read historical fiction, or if you are on the edge on reading it, give this book a try! It might surprise you.
Profile Image for Dianna Caley.
138 reviews12 followers
March 17, 2012
This was another one of my lit circle books. It's written for children, but I would recommend it for adults too. It's the story of a brother and sister living in Korea during world war II. At that time Korea had been under Japanese rule for thirty years and many people could not speak Korean. The historical period is really interesting and the narrative was really exciting and interesting too. I had a hard time putting it down.
Profile Image for Lucio .
4 reviews2 followers
October 20, 2019
Instantly when I started reading this book I felt stupid about not being informed a lot on the topic this book took place in. The book "When My Name Was Keoko" took place in the 1940s. The story instantly kicks in as a normal Korean little girl doing her house chores and following the rules of being a girl in that time. Suddenly there was news that Japan was oppressing Korea and by law Korean names had to be changed to Japanese names. Her new name was Keoko, she was formally known as Sun-Hee. I noticed how Keoko was a very curious person, she wasn't told much about what was happening around her, because her family wanted her to focus in school and house chores most of the time. She was kept out of conversations and arguments between the family. The book took place during WWII, and Keoko had barely any clue, but her curiosity made her nosey. She slowly figured the environment around her and jumped into the problem of Japanese occupation. The transition in school was hard for her, because she had to get accustomed to calling everybody by Japanese names now. A huge event that made her aware of the situation around her was a day in class when she called a friend by their Korean name in front of a Japanese military leader so she got beaten with a ruler in front of the whole class. She was so mad that she didn't care about getting hit with a ruler, she was mad because she realized everything around her was oppressive. She came home silent and refused to speak out but she was filled with anger. Her family wanted her to do well in school, so they made her study Anji (a sort of Japanese). She excelled in school in Japanese but was bullied by kids calling her Chin-il-Pa (Japan Lover), which was a insult. I was very surprised to see a 8-9 year old go through such a historical event and live in it, showing optimism for her future and family. Even though she couldn't do anything, she felt like she should know what was happening around her. Her family was very close together, and they all worked to make each others days better. Keoko had family helping her in school, while her uncle was out there, working for the Japanese, but actually working undercover for Korea, risking his own life for the right thing and protect the family. This provided benefits for the family that was treated better than other Koreans. The climax of the story is when the Japanese found out that he was working undercover, betraying Japan. They were going to search for his uncle and execute him. This crisis shows that Keoko had a strong family and that her uncle was sacrificing himself to provide for his family during a desperate time. As well during this time Keoko's brother was drafted to the army and he wanted to help the family in some ways as well, but Keoko's uncle was already in hiding, and the family was in trouble...
This book really showed me life through the eyes of somebody living a war, especially through a kid's eyes, and it really interested me. I really liked how every action took in the story had a cause and an effect. Keoko and her family's morals were to stay together and live through the war. I think the author did a good job introducing a historical event in a perfect perspective. I really enjoyed reading the book and while reading it made me think of the times my family told me stories of old family relatives who experienced this hectic World War and how in some way everybody just wanted to have their loved ones safe.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Austen to Zafón.
754 reviews27 followers
April 16, 2019
I didn’t know anything about the experience of Koreans during the 35-year Japanese occupation of Korea, from 1910-1945. This story takes place during the tail end of WWII, and while it is targeted to middle-schoolers, it makes pretty clear the misery and the brutality the Koreans experienced at the hands of the Japanese. The author’s afterward even addressed the 100,000+ Korean girls forced to be “comfort,” (read: sexual slaves) for the Japanese soldiers. Japan denied it all for decades, whitewashing the history, but the author combed many resources including her own family to find details of this terrible time. She used her mother’s Japanese name, Kaneyama Keoko, for the main character, and many of the details come from her mother’s experience.

So much of what the Japanese did during the occupation to obliterate Korean-ness and Koreans themselves, reminds me of what we Americans did to the Indigenous people here: banned the use of their language, forced them to take Japanese names, forcibly cut their hair, outlawed any Korean celebrations or even mourning practices, enforced pledging allegiance to the Emperor, took away their resources and personal belongings, humiliated them, raped the women, so on. Through centuries, humans have honed methods of cruelty and annihilation to create a formula for effectively eliminating cultures and peoples. These methods have been used the world over and continue to be used.

Park did a good job of gently introducing the topics, while also including humor and family tenderness, and addressing the complexity of the situation. It’s a good introduction and I’d recommend it for older kids and adults too. Although I was pre-reading for my kid, I enjoyed it myself, as I have many books by this author.
Profile Image for Barbara Nutting.
2,721 reviews89 followers
July 15, 2020
What a wonderful story. The book was written for Young Adults, but this “Old Adult” thoroughly enjoyed it. It covered WWII while the Koreans were under the rule of the Japanese. The more I read of this period (and I’ve read a lot) I’m not sure who was worse, Hitler or Hirohito, the Nazis or the Japanese?

This young brother and sister offer a different point of view from my previous reading, but the overall picture is the same. The Japanese were evil and cruel, forcing the Koreans to adapt to their ideals for 35 years. I’m amazed at what I never knew and how much I have learned.

Just a note - Ko means girl in Japanese, My sister-in-law is Setsuko, so I found that a fun fact!
Profile Image for Melody Schwarting.
1,436 reviews83 followers
May 24, 2021
Park is quickly becoming a new favorite middle-grade author for me. Prairie Lotus was marvelous, and When My Name Was Keoko is similarly human and beautifully written. Besides Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, which briefly examines Korea during the Japanese occupation, I haven't read a novel about Korea under occupation before. Park cited Bruce Cumings's idea of the "empty cupboard" years of 1935-1945, years where records of events during the occupation don't exist anymore. Park was able to glean from her parents' memories about these years, but When My Name Was Keoko is a work of fiction. It's told the voices of Sun-hee, a young girl, and her older brother Tae-yul. Occasionally I found this a little hard to follow. Sun-hee's voice was more memorable to me, and it felt like Park had a more special connection with her. However, Tae-yul's narrative told a more eventful, less reflective story.

My biggest takeaway from this novel was the endurance of Korean culture under an occupation that wanted to erase that and replace it with Japanese cultural supremacy. Language, heirlooms, names, even plants were nearly lost, but saved by those who loved them. Park has written other novels about Korea long before the 20th century, and I'm excited to see her take on historical Korean culture.

Content warnings: besides the usual violence of war (no battles are described), Park's author's note refers to "comfort women" and other violences, so it may be best to skip that with younger readers. Kamikaze pilots are part of the plot, too.
Profile Image for Alex  Baugh.
1,954 reviews108 followers
August 4, 2011
When My Name Was Keokol is written in the first person, but with an interesting twist. The story of the Kim family in Korea during World War II is told in the alternating voice of Sun-hee, 10, and her brother, Tai-yul, 13. The story begins in 1940. The Japanese have occupied Korea since 1910, systematically suppressing Korean culture in favor of their own, and now, they want every Korean to change their names to a Japanese name. Sun-hee becomes Keoko, Tae-yul is given the name Nobuo and their last name Kim is changed to Kaneyama. Everyone is unhappy about this name change, but what can they do? Quietly resisting, the Kim family can and do remain Korean within their homes and within their hearts.

Their father’s brother, Uncle, lives with the family and runs a printing store. As the Japanese become more and more restrictive, it seems that Uncle is cozying up to them, getting many additional printing jobs from them. Sun-hee and Tai-yul are wondering if there fiercely pro-Korea Uncle has suddenly become Chin-il-pa, a “lover of Japan.” Chin-il-pa is are Koreans who gets rich because they cooperate with the Japanese government (pg 22) and they are thought of as traitors by other Koreans.

Sun-hee and Tae-yul decide to investigate Uncle’s activities, only to discover that he not Chin-il-pa, but working for the Korean resistance movement. His outward friendly display towards the Japanese is an attempt to keep their suspicions at bay. One night, Sun-hee’s old Japanese friend Tomo comes by to hint that Uncle is in danger. Sun-hee immediately warns her Uncle and he disappears, no one knows to where. Now, during their nightly accounting, when everyone must stand outside their homes for as long as the Japanese want them to, they search the Kim home to find evidence of Uncle’s activities.

The Japanese authorities continue make life very hard for the Koreans, asking for more and more to be sacrificed for the Emperor. And they become even harsher and more demanding as they begin to lose the war. Families are forced to give up metal including pots and pans and their jewelry to be melted into munitions. Small acts of defiance follow these demands – Sun-hee’s mother hides a meaningful dragon brooch in her underwear. When her rows of Sharon trees, which had been the national flower of Korea, are ordered cut down and burned, in favor of Japanese Cherry Trees, she has the children save one small tree. They replant it and hide it in the tool shed.

Then, to make matters worse, towards the end of the war, Tae-yul, who has always been fascinated with machines and airplanes, unknowingly volunteers as a kamikaze pilot in the Japanese Special Attack Unit. Must they now make the ultimate sacrifice for their oppressors?

When My Name Was Keoko moves along less by action and more by description, almost like a diary of each child’s experiences. This also means that Park can more naturally include a lot of Korean history and culture without lapping into a kind of pedantic exposition that would cause the reader to lose interest. Park’s characters are well rounded, with a true to life feel to them. I was particularly drawn not just to Sun-hee but also to her elderly neighbor Mrs. Ahn, who in her own way refuses to accept the Japanese.

Among the many things in her Author’s Note at the end of the novel, Park writes that this novel was inspired by many of the stories her parents told her about their lives growing up in Korea during World War II. In fact, the name Kaneyama Keoko was really her mother’s Japanese name at that time. Her parent’s stories must have helped her form the alternating voices of gentle, thoughtful Sun-hee and her angry, impulsive brother, giving a broader picture of what life was like under the Japanese and the frustrations Koreans felt as they watched helplessly while their culture was decimated. Park has used other true events not connected to her family, but these are tailored to the Kim family in the novel. It is things like this that give a novel a realistic feeling such as that found in When My Name Was Keoko.

There is a note on Korean terms of address included, as well as a very useful short bibliography in addition to the Author’s Note. I really liked this book, it is a quietly powerful story that stayed in my mind long after I finished it, and I highly recommend it.

This book is recommended for readers age 9 and up.
This book was borrowed from the Webster Branch of the NYPL.
Profile Image for Nevaeh.
2 reviews4 followers
Currently reading
October 21, 2019
My novel takes place in Korea in 1940. The Korean and Japanese armies were fighting in world war 2. Japanese Empire took over Korea. Once they took over, everything changed. All the Koreans had to change their names to Japanese ones, in school students had to learn about the Japanese culture. During school, they also had to read and write only in Japanese. Even outside of schools people couldn’t speak Korean, unless they we're home or in an environment, where it was safe to speak that language.
A little girl named sun-hee Kim and her family, was one of many of the family’s affected by it. Once Korea got captured everything went astray for the Kim family. Despite the force to change their names, confiscation of Multiple things in their house, and them taking away food, the Kim family soon, unfortunately gets separated. Yay-yul, the brother is put into the military to help uncle by making the government focus on him. Uncle runs away after sun-hee mistakenly gives a false warning. Sun-hee stayed home feeling guilty of causing the uncle to leave, which also affected the brother to leave.
A moment of trouble in my book was when the uncle was printing off newspapers promoting the Korean soccer team that actually won but they introduced it at the Japanese team. Sun-hee was stopped by her friend Tomo who gives her a warning, that she believes is a danger warning for her uncle. Sun-hee tells the uncle, and he runs away after hearing this terrifying news. Sun-hee then finds out that Tomos warning was not indicating that that government knew about his activities with the resistance. They we're actually going to take metal items, including the print and press, and donate them to the military. After finding this information out, she then realizes that her uncle ran away for no reason. This would become even more tragical, once his flight gets announced by one of the neighborhood block leaders.
I think this was a good book, it gave me an understanding of how hard it was to be involved in world war 2 and how anything could happen out of nowhere, where you have absolutely no control over. This book also taught me that sometimes you don’t get what you want, and you are going to have to go through hard times and deal with what you have. I think that a Person who likes to read about drama and unbelievable Consequences would like to read this book.
Profile Image for Barbara M.
1,044 reviews24 followers
March 31, 2019
When My Name was Keoko : a novel of Korea in World War II
By Linda Sue Park – 4 stars

This story is not just of Keoko a/k/a Sun-hee but also very much about her older brother, Tae-yul. Their story starts in 1940 in their village in what will be So. Korea. Sun-hee is 10 years old and her brother is 13. It starts as the Japanese have made the rule that all Koreans must take on Japanese names and it causes great pain in the Kim family. Their names have special meaning to them. Abuji (father) comes up with a solution they can live with. However, in the home and throughout the book Sun-hee is rarely referred to as Keoko unless it is when she is in public or in school.

The chapters alternate between Sun-hee and Tae-yul as we see the changes in Korea as Japan enters into the war with the US. This period is seen through the eyes of the children told in the first person from each child’s point-of-view, in alternating chapters. These children have been raised to speak Japanese in public and school but at home they speak Korean. However, they write only in Japanese. They have never know their land as a free Korea, without the Japanese occupation which started in 1910, their grandparents' time.

The story takes us from 1940 to 1945, and the end of the war. The tension is high as Tae-yul ages to the point where he could be taken into the Japanese army. Sun-hee sees the day when the older girls are picked to go to Japan to work in the factories (as we see in the afterword, that isn’t entirely true and I know from having read White Chrysanthemum.) Which is later confirmed in the author’s afterword

This is a children’s book, probably aimed at Middle Schoolers. The author does an excellent job in the beginning by sharing some Korean terms that she uses throughout the book like: Abuji for father, and Omani for mother. That was very helpful. In the afterword she explains where she got much of the story, mostly from her parents and other members of her family. Having read that, I feel very certain that much of this story is biographical.

Very well done and I’m pleased to have included this book in my Expand Your Horizon reading.
Profile Image for Margaret Mae.
6 reviews3 followers
May 15, 2018
Since this book is historical fiction, and I'm leaving a not go great review I feel like I have to have this disclaimer: I have total respect for this historical event, and all of WW2 in general. I just didn't really like this book.

Now that that's out of the way...
I've always had an interest in everything world war two, and I think this book had so much potential. The book is told from the perspective of two children during the time when Japan occupied Korea, and made them change everything about their culture. Everything that was Korean had to be changed to Japanese (they had to speak Japanese, all Korean symbols had to be gotten rid of etc.) this book seemed like it could be really good, unfortunately I didn't like it. I really wish I did.

I felt like this book was trying to fit every historical fiction book troupe into 200 pages. Examples:
- Family member is working for the resistance/rebellion
- Said family member must go into hiding
- Friend is a traitor (in this case family is Japanese sympathizers)
- Family member enlists in army
- Said family member dies
- Oh wait! He didn't die! Here's the obscure way that he survived!
- The very passive **cough cough** and cowardly father actually was helping with the resistance? What??? Who saw that coming? I didn't! (-_-)

However, I did want to know what happened in the end, and what ended up happening with the characters.

Obviously you should include some of these for the book to be interesting, but all of them?
Also I feel like the book wasn't written in an interesting way, it was very predictable, and the book was just overall poorly written.
Profile Image for Jessica.
1,175 reviews123 followers
July 23, 2019
Despite the sometimes simplistic middle grade style, I learned a lot from this work of historical fiction. I was somewhat familiar with the past relationship between Korea and Japan from reading Pachinko, but since that family moves to Japan, I'd somehow missed that Korea stopped being its own country until Japan lost World War II. This book explains, using stories a child can understand, why Koreans resented being taken over by Japan, and it shows the characters taking actions big and small to resist the Japanese and hold on to pride in their culture.

Besides the fact that the dialogue felt stilted and simplistic at times, I got a little annoyed with the constant switching between past and present tense without any clear reason. If the book had been written in present tense as a default, then it would have made the order of certain events clearer if past events could then be told in past tense. It wasn't a huge issue, but it did trip up my comprehension from time to time.

This is a great contribution to middle grade literature. It reminded me a little bit of Number the Stars, and it's nice to have an alternative not set in Europe. I recommend it, particularly for the intended age level.
5 reviews3 followers
December 15, 2018
In this book "When My Name Was Keoko" by Linda Sue Park, Keoko and her family was forced to change their names since the Japan-Korea Annexation. Her real name was actually Sun-hee. The police is trying to arrest her uncle because of printing news papers that against the Japanese. Tae-yul, her older brother volunteered for becoming a soldier, and fight for the war, so then nobody would know what actually happened to Uncle. Keoko's family was worried that Tae-yul would die because he was Korean, but then the U.S won the war, and Japanese surrendered. Koreans were protected by Americans.
This book is similar to another body Linda had wrote, "A Long walk To Water", in that book the main character Salva's family had also lived in a time period of war, the Sudanese Civil War, and which many of Salva's family members had died. I think these two books are similar because before the day Tae-yul started his mission, he wrote a letter to his family. When Keoko's family received the letter, they thought Tae-yul already died, and from then, non of them smiled. This is sort of similar to Salva, his uncle told him his mother, father, brother and sisters all died, while at last, he found his family.
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