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Authors: Linda Sue Park

When My Name Was Keoko

BOOK: When My Name Was Keoko
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When My Name Was Keoko
Linda Sue Park

Clarion Books / New York

Clarion Books
a Houghton Mifflin Company imprint
215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10003
Copyright © 2002 by Linda Sue Park

The text was set in 12-point Minion.
Calligraphy by Eung Won Park.

All rights reserved.

For information about permission to reproduce selections from
this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Company,
215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10003.

Printed in the U.S.A.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Park, Linda Sue.
When my name was Keoko / by Linda Sue Park,
p. cm.
Summary: With national pride and occasional fear, a brother and sister face
the increasingly oppressive occupation of Korea by Japan during
World War II, which threatens to suppress Korean culture entirely.
ISBN 0-618-13335-6
1. Korea—History—1910–1945—Juvenile fiction. [1. Korea—
History—1910–1945—Fiction. 2. Family life—Korea—Fiction.
3. Military occupation—Fiction. 4. Patriotism—Fiction.
5. Courage—Fiction. 6. World War, 1939–1945—Underground
movements—Korea—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.P22115 Wh 2002

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

To my children:


and for my parents:
/ N
/ E
/ K
/ S


Heartfelt thanks to Audrey Debije, Marsha Hayles, Patrick O'Neill, Ed and Susie Park, and Nancy Quade, for reading drafts of the manuscript and offering valuable comments; Ginger Knowlton, for cheering me up and on; Jim Armstrong, for his eagle eye; Ben Dobbin, for constant support; and especially Dinah Stevenson, for clearsightedness, gentle prodding, and timely doses of encouragement over what proved to be a long haul.

A note on Korean terms of address

Terms of address are an important part of Korean culture. In addition to relationship, they signify rank, respect, and affection to a greater degree than their equivalents in English. The following terms of address are used throughout this story:



"older brother," used by a younger brother

-pah): "older brother," used by a younger sister

-ah): "auntie," used for relatives and also as a term of respect and affection for older women outside the family

): like "dear" or "honey," used exclusively between husband and wife

I have taken the liberty of using "Uncle" instead of the correct Korean term,
because I felt its similarity to the word for "father"
might cause confusion for readers.

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
to be quiet and
to ask.

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.

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
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. He'd taken it seriously, Omoni once told me; he'd wanted a name that would bring me good fortune.

For Sun-hee, too—"girl of brightness."

A different name? I can't imagine it. I look at Sun-hee and I can tell she's thinking the same thing.

"Those who do not register will be arrested," Abuji says.

"Let them! Let them arrest me! They will have my body but not my soul—my name is my soul!" Uncle's face is red as a pepper.

Abuji holds up his hand. "Such talk is useless. It must be done. But let me think a while."

We leave him alone. I'm last out of the room, but I don't close the door. I watch him take a few books from the cupboard and turn the pages. Then he gets up again and fetches
paper and pencil. Writes something on the paper, looks at it, writes some more. What's he doing?

At last he calls us all back into the room. Sun-hee and I sit on the floor, but Uncle stays standing, his arms crossed. Stubborn. Abuji waits a few moments, until Uncle seems calmer and uncrosses his arms.

"Tae-yul, Sun-hee, you know that the Kim clan is a large and important one," Abuji says. "Long ago, all Kims lived in the same part of Korea, in the mountains. Choosing the word for gold as their name shows what a strong clan they were. Gold was only for kings."

He picks up the sheet of paper from the table and points at it. "I have chosen our Japanese name. It will be Kaneyama.
means 'mountain' in Japanese, and
means 'gold.' So the name will honor our family history."

He turns to Uncle. "
will not know this. But we will."

Uncle doesn't look so mad now. "Kaneyama," he says quietly, and bows his head. "Hyungnim has chosen well."

"As to our first names," Abuji says, "Sun-hee, fetch your primer."

Sun-hee goes to the cupboard and brings back an old book. I know the book—it was mine first, then hers. The Japanese alphabet is on the first page. Abuji takes the book and opens it.

"We will close our eyes and point. Whatever letter we point to, we will choose a name that begins with this letter. These are not our real names, so we do not care what they are."

Uncle grins. "That's very good, Hyungnim. In fact, I do not care at all—you may choose my letter for me."

Abuji smiles, too. "No, we will each choose for ourselves."

First Abuji, then Uncle. My turn. I close my eyes, point my finger any old way, and then look.

My new initial.

My new name: Kaneyama Nobuo.

3. Sun-hee

That night in bed my thoughts were racing around in circles. I was remembering something that happened when I was only six years old.

Four years ago the Olympics took place in Europe. It was so exciting. My family crowded around the radio each night to hear about the competitions. Tae-yul and the other older boys made hurdles in the lane. My friend Tomo and I ran races with each other. We threw long sticks and pretended they were javelins. We even built an Olympic stadium.

Building cities was our favorite activity. In the vacant lot down the lane from my house we'd gather up stones, sticks, little bits of wood. We used them to build cities—houses, schools, shops, a marketplace, a temple, army barracks. Sometimes we built a train station and tracks, too. We used long sticks for the rails and broke other sticks into shorter lengths to make the crosspieces.

We always had long discussions as we designed and planned our cities. Sometimes we'd build for days, then stop, take everything apart, and start over again.

I remembered the stadium especially well. It was so different—oval instead of square; we'd heard about it on the radio, its strange shape and how big it was. The stadium had been one of our greatest successes. For days we had races inside it, using little stick people as runners.

On the last day of the Olympics, we all gathered as usual to listen to the radio. And as usual, Uncle translated the announcer's words for Omoni.

BOOK: When My Name Was Keoko
8.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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