The Life and Hard Times of a Korean Shaman: Of Tales and the Telling of Tales

Laurel Kendall, Author University of Hawaii Press $9.95 (157p) ISBN 978-0-8248-1136-5
Following her ethnographic survey of Korean women (Shamans, Housewives, and Other Restless Spirits), Kendall returned to her field notes to quarry this book devoted to a single person. The aging, garrulous shaman whom Kendall calls Yongsu's Mother recounts her life and times in a flock of rehearsed, windy tales, the events now distilled and dramatized. The pattern is not exotic: denied an education by the need to help support her family; given no love by a philandering father; bearing an illegitimate child after her lover left her; pressured into a bad marriage; jailed briefly during the Korean War, etc. Even her description of her religious calling is circumspect (she refers to gods as grandfathers), and the prosaic, familiar complaints of social injustice give this a universal but impersonal air. Kendall tries for something more by acknowledging that, as observer, she has an effect on her subject. So she mixes personal with professional comments and balances her affection for Yongsu's Mother with her doubts about certain tales' truthfulness. Finally, the faithful anthropologist, hanging on the words of a lonely old woman, stands in for the shaman's absent children. The premise is not uninteresting, but nothing in the book comes alive. (April)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1988
Release date: 01/01/1988
Paperback - 168 pages - 978-0-8248-1145-7
Ebook - 160 pages - 978-0-585-33753-1
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