Korea - The Impossible Country

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South Korea's amazing rise from the ashes: the inside story of an economic, political, and cultural phenomenon Long overshadowed by Japan and China, South Korea is a small country that happens to be one of the great national success storie...
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South Korea's amazing rise from the ashes: the inside story of an economic, political, and cultural phenomenon

Long overshadowed by Japan and China, South Korea is a small country that happens to be one of the great national success stories of the postwar period. From a failed state with no democratic tradition, ruined and partitioned by war, and sapped by a half-century of colonial rule, South Korea transformed itself in just fifty years into an economic powerhouse and a democracy that serves as a model for other countries. With no natural resources and a tradition of authoritarian rule, Korea managed to accomplish a second Asian miracle.

Daniel Tudor is a journalist who has lived in and written about Korea for almost a decade. In Korea: The Impossible Country, Tudor examines Korea's cultural foundations; the Korean character; the public sphere in politics, business, and the workplace as well as the family, dating, and marriage. In doing so, he touches on topics as diverse as shamanism, clan-ism, the dilemma posed by North Korea, the myths about doing business in Korea, the Koreans' renowned hard-partying ethos, and why the infatuation with learning English is now causing huge social problems.

South Korea has undergone two miracles at once: economic development and complete democratization. The question now is, will it become as some see Japan, a rich yet aging society, devoid of energy and momentum? Or will the dynamism of Korean society and its willingness to change—as well as the opportunity it has now to welcome outsiders into its fold—enable it to experience a third miracle that will propel it into the ranks of the world's leading nations in terms of human culture, democracy, and wealth?

More than just one journalist's account, Korea: The Impossible Country also draws on interviews with many of the people who made South Korea what it is today. These include:
  • Choi Min-sik, the star of "Old Boy".
  • Park Won-soon, Mayor of Seoul.
  • Soyeon Yi, Korea's first astronaut Hong Myung-bo, legendary captain of Korea's 2002 FIFA World Cup team.
  • Shin Joong-hyun, the 'Godfather of Korean Rock'.
  • Ko Un, poet.
  • Hong Seok-cheon, restaurateur, and the first Korean celebrity to 'come out'.
And many more, including a former advisor to President Park Chung-hee; a Shaman priestess ('mudang'); the boss of Korea's largest matchmaking agency; a 'room salon' hostess; an architect; as well as chefs, musicians, academics, entrepreneurs, homemakers, and chaebol conglomerate employees.


 

Product Details

Hardcover: 336 pages

     
     
     

    Editorial Reviews

    Review

    "Daniel Tudor covers all the important issues, yet does not simply tell the more familiar stories but looks deeper and wider to give the full story of Korea today."—Martin Uden, Former British Ambassador to South Korea

    "But this is not a history book. Tudor, Seoul correspondent for The Economist, provides a fairly perfunctory account of the "miracle on the Han River", which saw South Korea transformed from postwar ruin to prosperous democracy within four decades. The book's real value comes in its exploration of the cultural forces behind the country's zeal for self-improvement. He spends more time analysing the rise of Korean popular culture, which has swept across Asia during the past decade and is now going global with the success of PSY, the rapper whose hit, "Gangnam Style", has become a worldwide internet sensation. Some see PSY's breakthrough as evidence that South Korea is finally establishing itself in the global consciousness as the modern, sassy society it is. That may be true but his satire of life in the rich, fashionable Gangnam district of Seoul also reflects unease over the rising social divisions charted in Tudor's book."—Financial Times

    "Sixty years ago, South Korea was an economic wasteland. Today, it is not only the world's 11th largest economy, but also a vibrant democracy and an emerging cultural force. This transformation is the subject of a new book, Korea: The Impossible Country, by Daniel Tudor, Korea correspondent for the Economist. He argues that, thanks in part to its neighbors, South Korea is all too often overlooked. A pity, he says, since "South Koreans have written the most unlikely and impressive story of nation-building of the last century.""—Time Magazine

    Mr. Tudor pushes into new social and economic territory with his book, including the rising role of immigrants, multicultural families and even gay people in South Korea. He lays out some of the contradictory behavior one finds in South Korea, such as the unending desire for new and trendy gadgets and fashion and yet the tunnel-like view of what constitutes a successful life."—Wall Street Journal

    "Tudor's Korea: The Impossible Country is a fascinating overview of daily life in Korea. Tudor's in-depth analysis is the one of an insider who has never lost sight of the view from the outside. His book helps you feel comfortable right from your first visit in Korea."—David Syz, Swiss Secretary of State for Economic Affairs

    "With a new generation every five years, it's hard to keep up with Korea. This book is long overdue but Daniel Tudor has done a magnificent job filling the gap. Not only has he captured the new Korea, but he does so in an effortless style that leaves the reader wanting more."—Michael Breen, author of The Koreans

    "Written with affection and deep knowledge, Daniel Tudor's book fills a huge gap in our understanding of one of Asia's least known countries. His engaging narrative overturns the stereotypes by depicting a society which, though full of stresses, strains and contradictions, has overcome poverty and dictatorship to become a prosperous democracy. South Korea's transformation into a vibrant, modern state is, as he says, a story that deserves to be better known. Tudor has done the "impossible country" a service by opening its secrets to the world."—David Pilling, Asia Editor, Financial Times

    "Daniel Tudor is one of the most influential foreign correspondents in South Korea—and one of the least known. As the reporter for the Economist, which doesn't use bylines, most of his work is published anonymously. But Mr. Tudor's profile is about to take a sharp rise with the publication of his new book, Korea: The Impossible Country.
     

    About the Author

    Daniel Tudor is a writer and journalist based in Korea, where he is the Korea correspondent for the Economist and contributes to Newsweek Korea and other publications. He holds degrees from Oxford University and Manchester University in England and has worked in finance in both Korea and Switzerland.

    Most Helpful Customer Reviews

    28 of 29 people found the following review helpfulBy Amazon Customer on November 29, 2012
    Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
    Tudor's book is not so much the "inside story of an economic, political, and cultural phenomenon" that the cover proclaims it to be so much as it is a thorough survey of *who* Koreans are and *why* they are so. Anyone can look up the history of Korea's chaebol or its political (and military) history, and merely need notice what's hot in pop music to spot Korea's cultural influence. But Tudor avoids such a facts-only approach and frankly (but lovingly) introduces the reader to the factors that motivate, scare, cheer, and depress the average Cho.

    Foreign visitors to Korea often find themselves faced with a language, cuisine, environment, and even climate that is so different from their own that they resign themselves to Korea being too impenetrable (and yes, impossible) to contemplate. A subset of these expats find that two years working at a hagwon gives them an unassailable opinion of the 'fascinating natives' and offer an outsider's deconstruction of Korean society in blog form despite no real intimacy with the people or language. They are right in proclaiming that Korea is interesting, but lack a true understanding. Korean-authored works tend to be well-informed, but often oblivious to what their target readership wants to know. Tudor hits the sweet spot and gives a knowledgable explanation of what a Western audience wants to know (and would find interesting, even if initially they might not be curious).

    The book includes current events up through mid-2012 and will surely benefit from an update in a few years as Korea gathers more and more of the world's attention with the PyeongChang Olympics and whatever else may happen. For now (and most likely in the future as well), the book should be the first choice for anyone wishing to learn about modern Korean society.
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    38 of 41 people found the following review helpfulBy nube on August 27, 2013
    Format: Hardcover
    I am Korean, and bought this book from a local bookstore. It sure is a page-turner for those who are interested in South Korea. The author does a brilliant job describing many aspects of Korean culture. I was very impressed about the author's depth of knowledge and research. However, I must point out that, possibly due to his elite background, his insight and sources are limited to the upper middle class. The majority of Koreans belong to the lower middle/working class, who are now dangerously pushed to the limit with low wage and almost no social security. They wouldn't dream of getting a plastic surgery, buying new gadgets every time they come out, or sending their kids to multiple of expensive Hagwons/English speaking countries as described in the book. Most people simply can't afford such things. Thus the social divide between the two groups are getting bigger and bigger, posing serious threats to Korean society, yet the author fails to recognize it.

    I believe this book will be a good guide for English instructors/businessmen hoping to come to Korea, because what they will encounter is the upper middle class. However, if you are looking for up-to-date full information or a thorough analysis of South Korea, you might want to look for additional sources.
    3 Comments  Was this review helpful to you?  YesNo
    18 of 20 people found the following review helpfulBy Chris Backe on November 11, 2012
    Format: Hardcover
    Korea has achieved what many thought impossible - in a couple generations, the country has rebuilt itself from war-torn devastation to a first-world country known for many reasons. At present, the country faces a number of other issues, possibly considered 'first-world problems', that have to be addressed to continue its success. If you're interested in seeing how Korea got to where it is today (and why things are the way they are), a glimpse of history provides the context.

    The book starts with a very good review of Korean history, complete with the nuances (and without the nationalist tint) seen in Korean sources. If you're familiar with the country's back story there are few surprises here, but a tale on the country's most recent history is more helpful after seeing how it got here.

    The first major section, "Foundations", sets the tone for the rest of the book. The major religions of Korea - including a very good chapter on shamanism - all receive relatively equal treatment. I was a bit surprised to see almost no discussion on Korea's non-religious - those who have given up religion or don't see a place for it. The final chapter, a section on the battles for Korean democracy, should be required reading for any expat interested in intelligent conversation with a local.

    The second part discusses the power of jeong (the shared connection and obligation), the dilemma of competition, han (a deep sorrow fueled by uncontrollable tragedy), and to a lesser extent heung (a devil-may-care spirit of joy). As these are the cultural codes of Korea, they merit the attention of would-be expats or anyone studying the people. Where once these forces both greatly assisted the country, Daniel mentions that some of these forces (particularly the first two) have begun to become counter-productive in some ways.

    Entitled "Cold Reality", the third part mentions several of the issues Korea is currently facing - North Korea, the media, the working culture, the English craze, and so on. That the book is brand new (and therefore up to date, up to a reference of May 2012) provides context to even recent changes. This section also does an exceptionally good time of separating the outward behavior of people from their inner feelings on societal issues or their jobs, which is often accomplished via survey results. Each chapter ends with a reminder of the challenges that have brought us to the present, typically with an optimistic hope for the country.

    In a few cases, the author repeats a fact or point made previously. Additionally, some pieces read like something published in a news magazine, complete with interviews that dominate a given section of the book. Given that Daniel is an accomplished at the Economist and contributes to Newsweek, the style is to be expected.

    The fourth part is more light-hearted, and explains how Koreans have fun when not working. Again, the historical connection with the past is clear, as is the rapid change that has endured over the past decade. Someone that came to Korea even five years ago may not recognize some parts of the country nowadays. Areas popular with expats get mentioned (including a very different translation for "Itaewon" than I've ever heard before), along with the rapid growth of coffee shops as social hubs.

    The final part expresses concern for Korea's low birth rate, along with Korea's cultural wave and the backlash from it. The features here are individual chapters on two wrongfully maligned facets of society - the GLBT community and the historical treatment of women. There's nothing particularly new here, but it is a very good run-down of a history not easily found in one place. An epilogue entrusts that Korea can pull another miracle to find contentment - something that is sorely lacking despite the abounding material wealth.

    While the text is excellent as expected, I'm a little surprised at the lack of a pronunciation guide, or even a single word in Korean hangeul (everything is Romanized, to the detriment of anyone unsure of Korean pronunciation). Overall, though, it's a minor oversight in a well-researched book worthy of several hours.

    Recommended for any new expat, history lover, or anyone interested in the country's transformation.

    Disclaimer: Chris in South Korea received a pre-release review copy from the publisher - original post at [...]


     

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