now finished: Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles by Simon Winchester
I finished the book May 10 but am just getting around to blogging about it. Ugh, me and my bloggage this time around in Korea!! What is going on with me? Well, that's another story for another day. Here, let's ponder Simon Winchester. Of course, I knew how awesome he was ever since we had him on The Savvy Traveler but I must confess this is my first time reading an actual full-length book of his. I chose Korea because, well, duh - here I am. The book really inspired me to travel to the southwest coast of Korea, which we did this past weekend.
In Korea, Simon walks through the land of miracles to retrace the path of some 1600s Dutch sailors who were shipwrecked at the southernmost Korean island, taken to the main peninsula on a boat, and marched up to the capital in Seoul where the reigning king informed them they wouldn't be leaving. After eight or so years, they escaped and sailed to Japan. Then, one of them, Hendrik Hamel. wrote the first account of Korea for the so-called Western world.
Fascinating stuff! As is Simon's walk. I like his weaving of history, georgraphy, food, mountains, weather, wistfulness, and getting drunk with random people, even a monk (yes). I like how he lets some of the most egregious actions and characters (young-but-already-jaded U.S. service members who only leave base to go peruse flesh a few miles down the road, for example) speak for themselves. I like his encounter with the DMZ at the end and like even more that after the fact he actually went back to North Korea. I so envy English people like Simon and others who can actually go to North Korea. I am so sad to be an American who can't do it. (A much harsher "can't" than Cuba, I might add. Cuba actually wants us to visit -- we're the only jerks in that scenario. "We" - not me.)
I'll definitely be reading another Simon Winchester, the one wherein he cruises in China, because that's one of our upcoming travel plans, too! I recommend this book to anyone who is trying to learn more about Korea, or doesn't know anything beyond M*A*S*H and Kim Jong Il and kimchi. A lot of "travel narratives" are bad. This one is not.
This book has the uncanny effect of making it seem like a really, really good idea to take a journey across a country on foot.