cover image The New Koreans: The Story of a Nation

The New Koreans: The Story of a Nation

Michael Breen. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $27.99 (480p) ISBN 978-1-250-06505-6

Journalist Breen (Kim Jong-il: North Korea’s Dear Leader) illuminates the nature of the South Korean economic miracle that took this nation from postwar ruin to prosperity, Gangnam style, in less than 50 years. South Korea’s transition to democratic capitalism was shockingly fast and thorough, which Breen attributes to a combination of deep-seated cultural and historical factors—an underdog complex, the desire to “win,” the myth of national purity—before attempting to peer into the South Korean soul and thereby predict the future of politics on the Korean peninsula. Despite Breen’s decades spent living in Korea, he has not lost the casual, wink-and-nod cultural chauvinism of a foreign correspondent sent to cover the Third World. “There is of course some history, but not much,” he asserts flatly about modern South Korea, following this up with a series of anecdotes about when the country stopped signifying “third world” poverty in the eyes of Westerners—who are the only readership with whom Breen is concerned. Breen’s insights into South Korean culture and politics are undercut by his joking tone and uneven writing style. This bizarre mix of pop psychology and cultural determinist theories won’t serve Korea specialists or general readers. Agent: Kelly Falconer, Asia Literary. (Apr.)