Shattered by the Wars, by Hi-Dong Chai, should be required reading. This powerful coming of age memoir is a story of love, faith, suffering, and sacrifice.
Hi-Dong Chai had to overcome many obstacles in such a short amount of time. During World War II, Korea was under Japan’s control. They imprisoned his father because he was a Christian minister who refused to bow down to the picture of the Japanese emperor. His brother volunteered for the Japanese military in hopes to save his father. During the Korean War, his father was taken away by two North Korean officers. He never returned. Through it all, Hi-Dong Chai’s mother stayed strong for her youngest son. She is the true heroine in this story and she makes the ultimate sacrifice for her son.
There are many books written about World War II, but many of them are penned by the victors and focus on the battles. Hi-Dong Chai and his family were swept up into a war that none of them wanted, but all of them suffered greatly. Stories about the home front deserve to be front and center. It’s the little people who bear the greatest hardships with little to no glory. Millions of people lived through both wars. Not every story is the same. This memoir proves that every story should be heard. And it is hoped that the more people learn about the travesty of war they will work harder to prevent future wars.
This is not an easy book to read. Hi-Dong Chai’s family endured so much heartache. The family was torn apart, rejoined, and then torn apart again. The author is recounting events that took place decades earlier, but from his writing, you can tell he’s never forgotten his past, the sacrifices his mother made for him, and her love. While his story is gut-wrenching, it’s also uplifting. The events endured by the author would have broken many people. Yet many of the individuals in this story handled these traumatic events with grace and courage. It’s a testament to how good people can be even during the worse moments in history. And above all, Hi-Dong Chai’s memoir is a loving tribute to his mother.
It’s hard to describe a war memoir as beautiful because war is anything but beautiful. Yet this is a beautiful and inspiring book, even though the story is tragic. Not only will the reader learn about what it was like living in Korea during this time period, but the author fills the pages with knowledge that can only be learned during times of great sadness and difficulty. It’s not all depressing and he includes many humorous scenes that help the reader get to know the people in the story.
Throughout the memoir, Hi-Dong Chai kept saying he didn’t want to be a mushy bean curd. He wanted to be brave and strong like Tarzan. His surviving not only the wars, but all the loss and heartache proves that he is Tarzan. It is rare to meet such an incredible individual and this book will stay with readers long after they read the last page.
Hi-Dong Chai writes to SPR, “A couple years ago, my son, David Chai who is an associate professor in the Arts and Design department at San Jose State University, made a 10 min animation movie about his father. It won the gold medal at the contest sponsored by the association of Illustrators 55 in New York.”