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Not for the squeamish, a gritty, moving chronicle of survival in the small mountain village of Kumsan, Korea, circa 1950. Ahn's second US publication (after White Badge, 1989--not reviewed) is not, however, a war saga of battle lines and troop movements with R&R in Tokyo--the casualties here are ordinary villagers and their traditional, rural way of life. Old Hwang is the head of the village; his family has always controlled it, receiving payments from the villagers, helping them out in adversity, resolving conflicts, making the big decisions for the villagers. But the dark clouds hanging over the neighboring town after two days of air raids presage changes beyond the scope of Hwang's regulation. While the men attend to their early morning chores and the women are cooking the breakfast rice, already on the way to Kumsan are the boots that will trample the villagers' fields, destroying their crops and way of life. Before the Americans set up camp nearby, two soldiers rape Ollye, a young widow with two children. Up until now, Ollye has been able to eke out a living with help from Old Hwang. But once raped, Ollye becomes the village pariah. While the other villagers augment their meager food supplies by scavenging through the camp's garbage, Ollye, with the aid of plump and garrulous ""Dragon Lady,"" takes the only road open to her and becomes a ""UN lady."" She learns to drown her revulsion at the prostitution and tries, ineffectively, to keep secret her occupation as a ""Yankee wife."" When part of her son's hand is blown off in trying to prevent two ""friends"" from watching his mother have sex, Ollye delivers a screaming condemnation of the village, but it no longer matters: the village has already been destroyed. A takeover by the North Koreans is imminent; Old Man Hwang leaves his family's land, advises the villagers to do the same, and joins the line of refugees heading south. A grim, unsentimental look at the real victims of war-torn Korea.

Pub Date: Jan. 18th, 1989
Publisher: Soho--dist. by Farrar, Straus & Giroux