When My Name Was Keoko

When My Name Was Keoko

by Linda Sue Park


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Sun-hee and her older brother, Tae-yul, live in Korea with their parents. Because Korea is under Japanese occupation, the children study Japanese and speak it at school. Their own language, their flag, the folktales Uncle tells them—even their names—are all part of the Korean culture that is now forbidden. When World War II comes to Korea, Sun-hee is surprised that the Japanese expect their Korean subjects to fight on their side. But the greatest shock of all comes when Tae-yul enlists in the Japanese army in an attempt to protect Uncle, who is suspected of aiding the Korean resistance. Sun-hee stays behind, entrusted with the life-and-death secrets of a family at war.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547722399
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 04/17/2012
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 50,343
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.70(d)
Lexile: 670L (what's this?)
Age Range: 10 - 12 Years

About the Author

Linda Sue Park is the author of the Newbery Medal book A Single Shard, many other novels, several picture books, and most recently a book of poetry: Tap Dancing on the Roof: Sijo (Poems). She lives in Rochester, New York, with her family, and is now a devoted fan of the New York Mets. For more infromation visit www.lspark.com.

Read an Excerpt

1. Sun-hee (1940)

"It's only a rumor," Abuji said as I cleared the table. "They'll never carry it out."

My father wasn't talking to me, of course. He was talking to Uncle and my brother, Tae-yul, as they sat around the low table after dinner, drinking tea.

I wasn't supposed to listen to men's business, but I couldn't help it. It wasn't really my fault. Ears don't close the way eyes do.

I worked slowly. First I scraped the scraps of food and dregs of soup into an empty serving dish. Then I stacked the brass bowls--quietly, so they wouldn't clang against one another. Finally, I moved around the table and began putting the bowls through the little low window between the sitting room and the kitchen. The kitchen was built three steps down from the central courtyard, and the sitting room three steps up. From the window I could reach a shelf in the kitchen. I put the bowls on the shelf one at a time, arranging them in a very straight line.

The longer I stayed in the room, the more I'd hear.

Uncle shook his head. "I don't know, Hyungnim," he said, disagreeing respectfully. "They're masters of organization--if they want this done, you can be sure they will find a way to do it. And I fear what will happen if they do. Our people will not stand for it. I am afraid there will be terrible trouble--"

Abuji cleared his throat to cut off Uncle's words. He'd noticed me kneeling by the table with the last of the bowls in my hands; I was listening so hard that I'd stopped moving. Hastily, I shoved the bowl through the window and left the room, sliding the paper door closed behind me.

What rumor? What was going to happen? What kind of trouble?

When I asked Tae-yul later, he said it was none of my business. That was his answer a lot of the time. It always made me want to clench my fists and stamp my foot and hit something.

Nobody ever told me anything. I always had to find out for myself. But at least I was good at it.

You had to do two opposite things: be quiet and ask questions. And you had to know when to be quiet and who to ask.

When was easy. I was supposed to be quiet most of the time. The youngest in the family was never supposed to talk when older people were talking. And girls weren't supposed to talk much anyway, not when men or boys were around. So listening was easy for me; I'd done it all my life.

But lots of times I didn't learn what I wanted to know by listening. That was when I had to ask questions.

I could have asked my mother, Omoni, when we were doing housework together. But I'd learned that it was useless to ask her most questions. Either she didn't know the answer or she wouldn't tell me. Men's business, she'd say.

Abuji knew almost all the answers. I was sure of that. But I hardly ever asked him. He always said exactly what he wanted to say, and no more.

That left Uncle and Tae-yul. Usually, I tried Uncle first. He was quite cheerful about answering me most of the time. And when he wasn't around, I'd ask my brother. Firstborn son, only son--the men usually included him in their talks.

Tae-yul was thirteen, three years older than me. He was often impatient when I asked questions, and acted as if I were stupid for asking in the first place. But that was better than not knowing things.

Listening and asking weren't enough, of course. After that came the hard part--the figuring out.

They'll never carry it out. . . . They're masters of organization. . . . I knew who "they" were. The Japanese. Whenever there was talk that I wasn't supposed to hear, it was almost always about the Japanese.

A long time ago, when Abuji was a little boy and Uncle just a baby, the Japanese took over Korea. That was in 1910. Korea wasn't its own country anymore.

The Japanese made a lot of new laws. One of the laws was that no Korean could be the boss of anything. Even though Abuji was a great scholar, he was only the vice-principal of my school, not the principal. The person at the top had to be Japanese. The principal was the father of my friend Tomo.

All our lessons were in Japanese. We studied Japanese language, culture, and history. Schools weren't allowed to teach Korean history or language. Hardly any books or newspapers were published in Korean. People weren't even supposed to tell old Korean folktales. But Uncle did sometimes--funny stories about foolish donkeys or brave tigers, or exciting ones about heroes like Tan-gun, the founder of Korea. Tae-yul and I loved it when Uncle told us stories.

We still spoke Korean at home, but on the streets we always had to speak Japanese. You never knew who might be listening, and the military guards could punish anyone they heard speaking Korean. They usually didn't bother older people. But my friends and I had to be careful when we were in public.

Every once in a while another new law was announced, like the one when I was little that required us to attend temple on the Emperor's birthday. I decided that this must be the rumor--Abuji and Uncle had heard about a new law.

I was right.

2. Tae-yul

Sun-hee is a real pain sometimes. Always asking questions, always wanting to know what's going on. I tell her it's none of her business, which is true. Abuji would tell her if he wanted her to know.

But I don't know what's happening either. Why hasn't he told me? It's not like I'm a little kid anymore--I'm old enough to know stuff.

One day I get home from school and Uncle comes in right after me. He's early, it's way before dinnertime. He's got a newspaper in one hand, and he walks right past me without even saying hello. "Hyungnim!" he calls.

Abuji is in the sitting room. Uncle goes in and closes the door behind him. I listen hard, but I can't hear anything--until Uncle raises his voice. "I won't do it!" he shouts. "They can't do this--they can't take away our names! I am Kim Young-chun, I will never be anyone else!"

Omoni and Sun-hee come out of the kitchen and look at me. I turn away a little, annoyed that I don't know what's going on. Just then Abuji opens the door and waves his hand toward us. So we all go into the room. Uncle is pacing around like crazy.

Abuji reads out loud from the newspaper: "'By order of the Emperor, all Koreans are to be graciously allowed to take Japanese names.'"

"'Graciously allowed . . .'" Uncle says. His voice is shaking, he's so mad. "How dare they twist the words! Why can't they at least be honest--we are being forced to take Japanese names!"

Abuji reads some more to himself, then says, "We must all go to the police station in the next week to register."

Uncle curses and pounds his fist against the wall.

My name, Tae-yul, means "great warmth." My grandfather--Abuji's father--chose it. It's one of our traditions for the grandfather to do the naming.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“This powerful and riveting tale of one close-knit, proud Korean family movingly addresses life-and-death issues of courage and collaboration, injustice, and death-defying determination in the face of totalitarian oppression.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred

Customer Reviews

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When My Name Was Keoko 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 35 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Linda Park is an exceptional writer of Korean culture and its history. Although she was educated in the US, her understanding of Korean culture and history are innately exceptional. Unlike other writers of her similar background, Park does not compromise other people¿s culture, Korean, to satisfy the cursory American readers nor does she try to mystify Korean culture to spice up the content of her novel¿a style some other writers often use. Her book may, or will, disappoint some readers who are expecting to read the mystical world of Korea, even though in reality, different cultures share many common values. Her story is based on a middle class Korean family when Korea was under the Japanese military occupation. Ironically she decided not to include the atrocities of the Japanese brutality during their colonization of Korea such as countless rapes and tortures that the Japanese soldiers inflicted during the early part of the 20th century. Yet, Park¿s silent display of the Japanese¿ visible arrogance and their obviously intimidating presence in Korea were subtly but compellingly displayed through out. The main part of her story, however, is about the Kim family and their resilience to overcome the harsh reality. Although her characters do not see themselves as victims with their overtly optimistic views of the world, Park nevertheless indicates otherwise. When the Japanese soldiers decide to take away rice, which is a main meal for the Koreans, for their war efforts, the mother sought other means to provide meals to her family and refuses to let her family go hungry. The father, a great scholar, watches haplessly, when the Japanese soldiers takes away his son¿s biggest wealth, a used bicycle, in the name of the emperor, tries to console his son, knowing that resisting would only result in beating. Yet, this weak father has been secretly writing to the outlawed Korean Independence paper to inspire hope. The son volunteers to the Japanese imperial army to provide better meals to his family and ultimately volunteers to be a Kamikaze pilot, challenging his Japanese superiors¿ belief that Koreans are useless. The daughter tries to maintain normalcy in the chaotic time of the war. Through these wonderful characters Park shows an ordinary family in a time that threatens the family¿s very existence. Recently some how, the Japanese have become the victims of World War II for some legitimate reasons. We should never forget the innocent victims of the two atomic bombs at the end of the war. However, that does not justify Japan¿s staggering atrocities that resulted millions of deaths and countless rapes that still remain intact in the hearts of millions of victims in Asia and Japan¿s current administers¿ silence of its past. Park¿s book is not a charismatic book that will ultimately made in a movie but it is a historic book that is both refreshing and powerful.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a real page turner! I could not put the book down, I learned a lot from this story. I hope to read more by this author!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down. It was so sad, yet it had something that always wanted me to know more about what was going to happen next. It's no wonder it got the Caudill award!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a very good book because it makes you think of life in those times. It's hard for us to illustrate what life was like back then, but I can perfectly picture what it was in this book. I reccomend this book 100%
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is awesome. I read this as a paperback and thought that it was very well written. It was really cool how Linda Sue Park recounted her mothers'expirence during WWII. This book is just really good. I totally recomend this book to read.
Sandy Lee More than 1 year ago
I such a big fan of linda sue park that i knew this was the right book for moi! For most of the people reading this, the could have felt the sorrow and the mental pain the koreans were getting. Im korean also and so is the author of this book. I just wish this was written in hangul....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"When we chose our new names, I pointed to the letter K. I went around whispering over and over, "Keoko. Kaneyama Keoko. Keoko" I could think about "Kaneyama Keoko" as a name but not as my name." How would you feel if you were forced to change your name? When My Name Was Keoko is a realistic fiction written by Linda Sue Park. The main characters are Sun-hee and her brother, Tae-yul. They love each other very much, even though Tae-yul gets mad at Sun-hee for making a mistake. She told her uncle that the Japanese were going to arrest him; her uncle went into hiding. Sun-hee told her uncle something that was not true. Her misunderstanding leads her uncle into big trouble. His disappearance has been discovered by the Japanese, and he was a criminal now. Sun-hee realizes her mistake, and feels guilty. But later, she is told by Tae-yul that he is still alive. I liked this book, because the author described the characters' feelings in different situations, and made the story more interesting. I would recommend this book to people who are interested in Korean history.
starling18 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a very moving book, and I felt it was a benefit to have it as an audio book, since I could really hear the two different voices of both characters. It was very informative about that time period in Japan's and Korea's histories-- since it is a juvenile book I think it's a fantastic way for students to understand this part of history as well.
cassiusclay on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Personal Response: I enjoyed reading a different story about World War 2, and felt this book did a fantastic job relaying the message. I liked the use of alternating narrators, Sun-hee and her brother, Tae-yul, to establish different perspectives on the story. One element that stood out to me was the explanation of characters. Though this was very brief I felt it added a nice touch for ignorant people like me. The cultural authenticity of this story is also very apparent and appreciated. However, I didn't appreciate what felt like an abrupt ending to a slower building story.Grades 6 - 9curricular connections: History - world war 2, japanese occupation of Koreacultural studies
Nhritzuk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As I read this story, I appreciated the perspective of a Korean girl vs that of a Korean boy during the Japanese occupation. Having lived in Korea for 6 years now, I have learned the traditional roles of men and women and I think that LSP very accurately portrays those roles through the characters in this story. Sun-hee is quiet, a good student, but never allowed to be a part of important conversations because she is just a girl. Tae-Yul, the oldest son, is considered to be very important in the family, so he is privvy to many conversations. TaeYul is more vocal about his anger and fear while Sun-hee is quiet and reserved. I found I was able to make a lot of connections with the story and I gained a greater understanding of Korea's history. I also appreciated the Korean perspective on the American's appearance when LSP describes the Americans with their big noses, big white teeth, and skin so pale you could practically see right through it:)
alyssabuzbee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This story is about a Korean girl and her family during the time of Japanese occupation of Korea. The Korean people suffered terrible oppression during this time, to such extent that they were forced to change their names to Japanese-sounding names. The particular family in this book was originally named Kim, but changed their last name to Kaneyama. The children, Sun-hee, and her brother, Tae-yul, were forced to change their names to Keoko and Nobuo. The Japanese have tried to eliminate Korean culture by requiring schools to teach Japanese and banning the teaching of Korean language and history. Korean newspapers have also been banned, as has public conversation in Korean. The children¿s uncle is forced to flee because of his support of the Korean resistance movement, and their father is limited to the title of Vice-Principal at a school because the position of Principal is reserved for a Japanese man. Because of food shortages, the family is forced to eat millet rather than rice, and personal metal items are confiscated for use in the war effort. Tae-Yul, who has always had a fascination with planes, enlists in the Imperial Army and volunteers for a kamikaze unit. However, he hears some Japanese officers talking about the lack of bravery in Korean soldiers, and makes plans to miss the American ships when his squadron is sent out on a mission. However, they are forced to abandon the mission due to cloud cover. However, he had sent his family a last letter the day before the mission, and they believe he has died in battle. They are overjoyed when he returns home after the war. This is the part of the book that affected me the most. As a mother, I cannot fathom how it would feel to believe my son was dead and then have him suddenly reappear.
jebass on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Linda Sue Park does an excellent job of creating lovable, memorable characters in this 1940s-set novel about the Japanese occupation of Korea during WWII. It documents the horrors of the Japanese occupation and the way they tried to steal every aspect of the Korean nationality, from their names, their symbolic plants, their language, etc. and replace it with the "Japanese way." The story follows two narratives, that of Sun-hee and her older brother, Tae-yul; whose "Japanese" names are Keoko and Nobuo, respectively, and how they deal with the Japanese occupation and trying their best to secretly protect the little that is left of their Korean heritage. It was a fantastic book that reminded me a lot of Lois Lowry's number the stars, offering a glimpse into the past that is sure to spark the curiosity of children who are interested in learning about the WWII period in history.
lilibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Tells the story of a family in occupied Korea in World War II, when the Japanese tried to suppress Korean culture.
bmozanich on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a wonderful book. It tells a story about World War ll from a new perspective. Park uses an effective strategy of alternating narrators to tell different sides of the same story. The voices of Sun-hee and Tae-yul are distinctive. The characters must straddle two worlds and learn to function in both. They are proud to be Korean, yet have always been under Japanese influence and do not know what life was like before the occupation. The fears, frustrations, pride, and hopes of the characters allow the reader to feel empathy and wonder what it would be like to live in an occupied land. The descriptions of their first contact with Americans and American goods (rice and gum for example) are humorous.
paradox98 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great insight into Korean culture (lack thereof, actually) during the Japanese occupation. Really interesting.Will make you seriously consider the public misconception of "Korean, Japanese, Chinese... they're all the same." Because they're NOT.
bsu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
okay story told in alternating viewpoints of a 13 year old brother and a 10 year old sister growing up in Korea during the Japanese occupation of WWII. A bit slow moving
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was amazibg i have read it 3 times i love how it is historical ficton but it is diffrent than others
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When My Name Was Keoko, Linda Sue Park                               Alex Sam, 7th grade 196 pages, Random House Books                            Lawson Middle School, Cupertino, CA grades 4­-7                                                                                              ISBN:0­440­41944­1 Keoko is in the middle of World War II, under Japanese oppression. In "When My Name Was Keoko" by Linda Sue Park, a girl is stripped of almost all her belongings, including her name. Her family and her are suffering, and Keoko feels angry, sad, and proud at times. Her family on the other hand, is afraid of being seized by the Japanese and executed. Even worse, Keoko’s brother drafts himself into the Japanese military. I read this book at first only because it was a school assignment, but on the second day, I couldn't resist myself, I was hooked. I read the whole book in one sitting! Linda’s novel is a page turner, and though it has many nonfictional elements, it is, historical fiction, and it is neither a sequel, or a prequel. I would have recommended this book to people who are about 10­-13 years old, and like to read about brave, and hard to make decisions concerning the lives of those close to you. The author was not involved in the war herself, but her relatives were, and that is what motivated her to write this book. She also uses an interesting way in telling the story, switching between the point of view from Keoko, to Keoko’s brother, providing two points of view, and throwing in a number of suspenseful moments, where time seems to slow down. I would read this book, even if it may not seem interesting at first, eventually, you will get hooked.
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