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Recipes for Ghosts: Korean American Memory and Representation of the Korean War through Grace M. Cho’s Tastes Like War

  • Journal of Humanities, Seoul National University
  • 2024, 81(1), pp.143-179
  • DOI : 10.17326/jhsnu.81.1.202402.143
  • Publisher : Institute of Humanities, Seoul National University
  • Research Area : Humanities > Other Humanities
  • Received : January 22, 2024
  • Accepted : February 6, 2024
  • Published : February 28, 2024

Na Boryeong 1

1서울과학기술대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This paper examines Grace M. Cho’s Tastes Like War in the context of Korean American memory and its representation of the Korean War. Here, memory of the Korean War is understood as an expansive concept that encompasses not only the war itself, but also a range of post-Korean War experiences that Cho’s mother is portrayed as having undergone. These experiences include engaging in sex work in the post-war camptowns, international marriage and immigration to the United States, schizophrenia, and the ongoing situation of division revealed by her mother’s remains, which never returned to Korea after her death. In order to accomplish this exploration, the paper first examines Cho’s key concerns and formal experiments in the works leading up to Tastes Like War. Following this analysis, it discusses the book’s formal attributes as a strategic approach to representing the concept of ‘becoming ghost’ through hybrid memoir writing. This method aims to make her mother’s ghostly attributes visible through the use of multiple subject voices and forms, thereby challenging the forces that turned her mother into a ghost. The paper then examines the book’s renewed emphasis on the importance of food in the process of reconsidering the mother as an agent of agency, moving beyond the representation of her solely as a victim of structural violence. Related to this theme is the ambivalent performativity of assimilation and rebellion, as well as the parodic aspect of nationalist gender discourses evident in the food and cooking practices of Cho’s mother as a camptown diaspora. Finally, in light of the aforementioned efforts and achievements in representation, the paper examines the predicament Cho faces in speaking on behalf of her mother’s Korean War memories. It critically analyses the author’s tendency to over-interpret the gaps and uninterpretable areas that result from translating the language of the minority and the unspoken into the language of the mainstream from a position of dominance. At the same time, the paper emphasises that Cho’s mother remains a ghost in both the United States and Korea today. This leads to a re-evaluation of the significance of the book’s attempts at cooking and writing as a creative recreation that transcends conventional notions of fact, originality, and authenticity.

Citation status

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