This was a part of my assignment for EDSC 541K class:
Quiet Odyssey: A Pioneer Korean American Woman in America
By Mary Paik Lee
Edited with an introduction by Sucheng Chan
Published in 1990, Quiet Odyssey: A Pioneer Korean American Woman in America by Mary Paik Lee and edited by Sucheng Chan, is an autobiography by one of the first Korean Americans, and one that is a first in documenting the life of a Korean American woman. Since the book is quite easy to read, with text written in plain sentences and simple descriptions about various places, people, and things, the book seems suitable for students as young as grade 7. It is 130-pages long with about 70 pages of appendix that includes historical background provided by the editor, which also seems quite useful as a historical reference. As someone who did not have much knowledge about the personal lives of the first Korean Americans, I found this book interesting and enjoyable, and would recommend it to others who would like to learn about what various places there were that the first Korean immigrants settled in, and what sorts of hardships they faced.
Written in a chronological progression, over half of the 16 chapters are titled after the places that the author moved to, followed by chapters that are about the times during World War II, about her reflections on discrimination, her sons, and old age. Born in Korea in 1905 as Kuang Sun Paik, she and her family emigrated to Hawaii when she was five, after her parents were convinced by the advice of the Christian missionaries from the U.S. From Oahu to Riverside, then to Claremont, Roberts Island, Idria, Hollister, and finally to Willows, Paik-Lee moved to many places within California with her parents as a child. She has many details about her childhood that were often heavy with hardship and hunger but always full of love and support from her parents and her older brother. Some stories include her working hard as a housemaid even while attending school, her memories of her loving parents being very strong but slowly weakening by the intense labor they had to endure to make a living, the generous and helpful people she met throughout the years, and the not-so-kind people that ultimately strengthened her character.
She explained in straight-forward sentences about the places she lived in, the people she met, and the stories that were described with little ambiguity. I also felt that the author was at peace with all the hardship she faced in her life, as her words that detailed the stories and the incidents were described with positivity and acceptance, even the ones that were about the mistreatment and injustice she received and dealt with while growing up. I thought her bold character was able to be nurtured because of her loving parents that really seemed to have lots of good advice and care for the children that left a profound impact on the author, which later helped her become someone who was brave enough to face the hardship and smart enough to learn how to deal with the problems. I hardly felt the author was projecting a strongly negative feeling towards an incident, or still holding grudge against someone. She seemed very content with all that has happened in her life and was happy to share it with the readers.
As I read on, I started to feel a personal connection to the author and really wanted to know more about the joys, the struggles, and everything in between that the author experienced. At one point, I had an urge to check again what the publication year of the book was, and then I found myself resisting from simply turning the page to look it up. This was because I wished that the author was still alive and that I will have an opportunity to meet her. But soon, I reluctantly informed myself that the book was published in 1990 and the author was already in her 80s when the book was written. In fact, later I had learned that she had passed away 5 years after the book was published. Additionally, there were parts in the book that made me feel very emotional. One part was when the author talked about her husband’s death and the exact spot in which he is buried. I felt a desire to go and visit the burial site, and pay respect to the husband whose life was also detailed in the book. He seemed to be an honest man who worked very hard to support his wife and children, and who supported his wife for her rights during a time when women’s rights were dismissed.
If this book were used in middle and high school classrooms, it would be meaningful for students to read it and receive guidance on how they can narrate stories about their own parents and grandparents’ stories of growing up and their knowledge of their ancestors. It would also be a good lesson for students to map out the places in California in which the author lived, and then compare how the places were described in the book to how those places look and feel now. Also, since the author has several accounts of her interactions with friends and schoolmates, and many of these are stories of experiencing racial discrimination, it would be a good idea to use this book to start a discussion on racial discrimination and bullying that may be happening in schools today and see if there have been improvements in how schools, students, and teachers address and deal with discrimination and bullying in today’s society.