I have no recollection of learning about World War II in high school. I took AP U.S. History, so you’d think it would have come up, and it might have, but I don’t remember it. So, before I read When My Name Was Keoko, all I knew about Japan during World War II was that we dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I knew nothing about Korea.
When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park came out in 2002. The book follows a young Korean girl, Sun-hee (Keoko), and her older brother, Tea-yul (Nobuo), during World War II. By the time we get to Sun-hee’s story, the Japanese have occupied Korea for thirty years. When My Name Was Keoko begins with Sun-hee having to choose a Japanese name. “Graciously allowing”—as the Japanese Emperor’s official order phrased it—Korean's to choose Japanese names was one tactic Japan used to indoctrinate the population of Korea.
When My Name Was Keoko is a fantastic book, and, like Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, it is loaded with history. In her author’s note, Park expounds some of the history she includes in her story. Despite her thoroughness, I found two interesting bits of history that she touches on in the book but doesn’t mention in her author’s note. Because When My Name Was Keoko is a children’s novel set in Korea, Park couldn’t go into too much detail on the war crimes Japan committed both in Korea and in other countries during World War II. Also, given the scope of the book, she only touches on the next chapter of Korea’s history: the events leading to the Korean War. So, here we go.