Wednesday, June 07, 2023

In the Tunnel

Lee, Julie. In the Tunnel
May 30, 2023 by Holiday House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this companion novel to Brother's Keeper, we see the events of post WWII Korea from the point of view of Myung-gi. Going back and forth during several time periods, we see how the lives of the Kim family are affected. After the Japanese leave the area, Myung-gi's father loses his business, but gets a job as the principal of the local school. Myung-gi excels academically and loves reading, and his father has a deal with a local book seller to get English language books that have been banned. They hide these in the walls of the house. The family's life is very constrained, and they are very careful to not be noticed. When the father is conscripted, however, Myung-gi's mother and sister Yoomee follow the father's plan to leave their home and walk to Busan, where he has made arrangements with Sora's family to find a place for them to stay. While they don't meet the father at the river crossing as they had hoped, the group does manage to make it to the city, where they have a modest house to live in. Myung-gi attends school, but also works hard carrying water for elderly people and doing odd jobs. He is still worried about his father, and thinks that if he can go North, he might find him. He saves up enough money to support his mother and sister for six months, then joins the army. Throughout the book, we flash forward from this story line to Myung-gi on the front, where he has fallen into an enemy tunnel and is trapped there for days. He is near an enemy soldier who is also trapped, befriends a mouse, and has plenty of time to think about the events that have brought him to this place. Deprived of food and water, and also badly injured, he hallucinates, and thinks that it is very likely that he will perish. He is thankfully saved, and in an epilogue we do find out the fate of his father, who never made it out of North Korea. 
Strengths: Like Sora's story in Brother's Keeper, Myung-gi's story is heart wrenching but also filled with hope. It's good to see a somewhat happy ending to his story, after his grueling experiences. The details of life under Communist rule, the difficulties of escaping to the South, and the hard conditions of life in Busan are especially important to read now, in light of similar circumstances affecting people in Ukraine. The research into this time period is very strong, and Myung-gi's relationship with education is a fantastic thread running through all of his experiences. It's good to see Sora and her family and to learn a bit more about them as well. 
Weaknesses: I understand why the choice was made to go back and forth from the Kim's escape to Busan to Myung-gi being trapped in the tunnel; the scenes in the tunnel don't have a lot of action, so the book moves more quickly when that timeline occurs. Flashbacks can be hard for some of my readers to comprehend, so I would have preferred a more straightforward timeline. 
What I really think: There is little written about the Korean War, so I very much appreciate both of these books. The fact that they center teenagers is a great way to show young readers not only how devastating war is, but also how many people over time have overcome great obstacles. These are both important historical novels for middle school and high school libraries to have. I will definitely purchase.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you enjoyed this. I have a review coming tomorrow.