Tears of Blood
(A Korean POW’s fight for Freedom, Family, and Justice)
By Young-bok Yoo / Translated by Paul T. Kim
I usually try to only review and rate self-published books to get more awareness for them out there, but after reading this, despite having a standard publisher, I had hold onto it a little longer by giving it a review because I didn’t want to put it down quite yet.
A young Korean man is surprised by the sudden invasion from the North only to eventually find himself as a POW. After the UN forces agreed treaty and POW exchange, he realizes that him and around another 80,000 South Korean soldiers are not returning to their home country. This is his true story of dashed hope and eventual return to South Korea after more than fifty years.
The writing style of this book is simple: confessional. In no way does it try to dart into higher, grandiose themes or propaganda-like verbiage. It is clear-cut as if the man who this happened to were sitting directly across from you. This makes it all the more poignant and hard to turn away from.
“If we wanted to survive, we had no choice but to follow orders. Those who rebelled or talked back would one day just disappear.”
Clearly, the translator too wanted to stick to this style, as it is hard to see where he interjects his rendering of the true author’s words. Though Young-bok was taken very earlier, being a late teen at the time war broke out, he speaks soulfully and honestly as if immensely wise.
Another endearing aspect is the way in which everything is chopped up into short chapters with a larger main idea to express. Each one tends to be nothing more than one key event in the progress of his life and his forced against his will suffering. In this way, the words fly by fast and makes you see clearly too how those lost years must feel to him now, like nothing more than flipped pages.
The most startling realization anyone might get from this book is the same that many have said about any book on the topic of North Korea. While reading, you cannot help but feel that somehow George Orwell was an oracle. This world that Young-bok lived in and which still exists today is right from the pages of 1984, despite the book being published two to five years before this country came to be. And Young-bok paints the picture so well that you understand fully why everyone follows suit with this ridiculousness: their lives are riddled with fear, every single second.
One of the final moments in the book, after his escape and return, he marvels over the advances in the South that most Northerns are completely unaware of. To them, South Korea and the rest of the world are poor. But too, he sees the political divisiveness in the South, and cannot understand how petty the world is at times, especially after what he lived through. If only all of us, at one point in our lives, could have our freedom taken away from us, then maybe we’d use it with a little more forethought and less ‘high-school’ bickering.
This book will kick you in the face. If you don’t walk away from it feeling shocked and angry at all the stupid things in the world, it is impossible to call you human. I know this book, personally, haunted me days after and even more so because it’s true and still happening. These soldiers were left behind and forgotten by their home country, most never seeing it again. The fact that something like this can happen is enough to ruin a few nights worth of sleep.
If you want to find out more about the book, click here.