Festival for Three Thousand Maidens

Richard Wiley, Author Dutton Books $18.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-525-24950-4
Spared by his obesity from the Vietnam draft, callow Bobby Comstock becomes a Peace Corps volunteer in Korea, and comes of age as he unwittingly plunges into the politics of the rural region where he teaches English at a boys' school. In Wiley's accomplished second novel (after Soldiers in Hiding ), Bobby at times seems the archetypal ``ugly American'': he gets drunk and steals a dead woman's photograph from a Confucian funeral; he glibly lies to his students. But as Bobby begins to shed his extra pounds he is also propelled by various events toward maturity. He rescues a nearly enslaved Korean tearoom girl and has an affair with a beautiful black woman who leaves the Corps following the assassination of Martin Luther King. Bobby learns the meaning of political freedom when he plays a key role in the town's ``spy-catching day,'' a government-orchestrated propaganda event designed to root out dissent. Passages from a diary kept by the school's vice-headmaster, counterpointed with the main narrative, provide a bemused Korean's perspective on well-meaning ``outside persons'' (foreigners). More than a sensitive depiction of a rite de passage, the narrative gains bite from numerous amusing, perceptive scenes highlighting the differences between the two cultures, each exotic in the other's eyes. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/04/1991
Release date: 03/01/1991
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