Thursday, June 13, 2013

Topics for Reflection and Discussion 

 War, love, and formidable obstacles for survival. Many passages in Tendrils of Life exude memorable scenes, characters, and actions; the following questions may lead you to reflect on some of them.

1. The many trials Jimin goes through should have brought some significant changes to his character. Can you think of some ways he has changed? Are they the right kinds of changes? What are the key events that caused those changes?

2. One of the major decisions Jimin makes is going back to Seoul to find Sora and his father, and allowing his little sister to tag along in spite of himself. Had he decided to stay at Hadong, he would have met his father the next spring and set sail to Ockdo. Assuming that he believes it is the right decision, do you think Jimin could have been patient enough to wait, suppressing the desire to see Sora?

3. What does Jimin's gut-wrenching separation from his sister bring him? Suppose Misern stays in the relative safety of her father's hometown when Jimin is forced into the militia. Would it make a big difference for his endurance and perhaps alter the course of action that follows? Would it change the odds of his survival?

4. Without his thirst to return to Ockdo, could Jimin have survived? What role does the seashell he carries around play in the story? How about the sunset and the sound of the waves?

5. What do you think of Iodo in this book? In your opinion, does it further the story or enrich it in some way? Is it possible that Ockdo and Iodo gradually become the same island in Jimin's mind?

6. Toward the end of the book, Jimin could have stayed with Unhee rather than go out to sea to find Iodo or an island similar to Ockdo. Do you think the former is the more rational choice for him to make? Is it likely that (after the story's end) Jimin came back to see her and perhaps search for her? Had Unhee not moved away, might he have taken her and her daughter to his island?

7. For nearly five days while Jimin stays at her place, Sora pretends that she doesn't know Jimin. Would you do the same if you were in her place?

8. Sora doesn't tell Jimin the truth about Misern's whereabouts when she returns from the trip to Seoul to find her. Would you handle the situation differently? What might have happened if she told him the truth?

9. Sora gradually changes her mind about Sinman and entrusts herself to him in order to survive. Do you see this as weakness on her part or an inevitability given the circumstances?

10. Do you think Sinman could have been a likable character? Would he have become a good person if he had grown up in an ordi-nary environment?

11. What do you think of the scene where Sora is killed? Do you think Jimin acted properly in that scene?

12. The author reveals in the Epilogue that Misern had survived the war. But he only hints at the possibility, if strongly, that Jimin and Misern have been reunited. What do you think about this? Do you think the author intentionally left it vague so that the reader could decide? Can you make up your own story about how she survives and how she and Jimin stumble upon each other?

13. Do you think the ending of the story is tragic, happy, or both? How would you end the story if you were the author?

14. Jimin yearns for his island all the time while he is away from it. After he returns to Ockdo, do you think he would miss the places he had been during those six years on the mainland and the people he had stayed with? Would he have gone back many times, searching for his little sister and looking back on those difficult years?

15. The division of Korea into North and South was proposed by the United States when the Soviet Union entered the Pacific War by invading Japanese-occupied Manchuria two days after Hiroshima. The U.S. dropped another atomic bomb just a day after the Russian invasion. And Japan surrendered within a week. It would have been more logical had the U.S. instead proposed a buffer along the border between Korea and Manchuria. There would have been no Korean War in that situation. Do you believe a war between the communist bloc and the free world would have occurred anyway? Could it have developed into another global conflict, unlike the Korean War which was contained inside Korea?

16. Had America decided not to act against the North Korean in-vasion in June 1950, the communists would have won a quick victory in less than two months. The cost of the war would have been much smaller, with far fewer casualties. On the other hand, it would have emboldened Stalin and his followers and could have turned the cold war hot. Do you think U.S. involvement in the Korean War (as well as other nations' participation) has made the world a safer place to live?

17. One of the reviews of the book includes this statement: "Amer-ican soldiers are depicted quite poorly here; they speak of their disdain for the country that they are risking their lives for." Given that these first waves of U.S. soldiers-part of the peacekeeping force in Japan who had never expected to be involved in a war-were suddenly thrown onto a battlefield, vastly outnumbered, suffering defeat after defeat and retreating, do you consider their disdain and paranoia unrealistic? The author says that the U.S. military operations described in the book largely came from various U.S. sources. He says that the soldiers of the Soviet Union, when they occupied North Korea in 1945, stole personal belongings such as wristwatches from pedestrians and raped women in front of their families even in big cities, and that one must look at things from the worldview of the 1950s rather than from today's perspectives, in which hideous images can be transmitted instantly around the globe. Do you think the author was one-sided or intentionally criticized American soldiers?

Viviane Crystal's comment:

These are all superb questions. All of them address individual personality characteristics that respond in predictable and totally unpredictably ways when war(s) begin(s). Each character must decide what motivations evolve into specific actions, sometimes making sense immediately, sometimes later, and more often than not never at all. Still the questions above should stimulate questions that must be asked about historical realities. Have we not all heard the saying that unless we study history it shall repeat itself? It shall and it does. These are great questions for book clubs to discuss and for leaders to ponder, even without the light of public media monitoring responses. Again, this is a powerful novel worthy of recognition and reflection.

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