A flavorsome collection of vignettes about Korean lives, loves, and politics. Shapiro (Japan: In the Land of the Brokenhearted, 1989), who has spent upwards of a year on and off in Korea, makes a good stab at bringing to life for Western readers the people and issues in this little-understood powerhouse of a country. In sketches--written with a storyteller's flair--of individuals and families, Shapiro zeroes in on the conditions, aspirations, and discontents of farmers, businessmen, laborers, women, and other representative segments of the population. With frank affection, he depicts an energetic, loquacious, contentious, warm people ruled by both a kind of national bitterness (""han"") and a joy, and evokes the booming energies of the marketplace and the cities, as well as the quieter lives of villagers and country people. Almost as vivid are his analyses of the complexities of the country's politics and directions--and an excellent rundown on the nation's contending forces, background, and government that's provided by his wife, Susan Chira, a New York Times correspondent. But the highlight here is the wealth of human-interest stories, enriched by the sensitive involvement of the author with his characters. In a final section, Shapiro describes a mountain-climbing expedition that seems to summarize his impressions. He relates that at one point, he heard a scream reverberating against the mountainside and asked his companions what it was. He was told that every Sunday people hike to the top of the mountains to scream: ""They scream away their frustrations, their anger. They scream away a bit of their han. . .And. . .when they are finished. . .they pick up their rucksacks and make their way back down the mountain. . .prepared to resume their passionate life."" An engaging and revealing report.