KOREA IN WAR, REVOLUTION
The Recollections of Horace G. Underwood
Edited and Annotated by Michael J. Devine
Yonsei University Press, Seoul, Korea
Hardcopy, 390 pages, ISBN 89-7141-562-2, 20,000 won
Editor-in-Chief of SKAS (KASTN/IEKAS)
Professor of Physics
[ED. For some reasons unknown to us, the book is
not available at Amazon.com, although it is written in English and is
clearly intended for global readership. I am indebted to Dr. Jong Y. Lee, a fellow OKSPN member, of the University of
Minnesota Medical Center, who provided me with a gift copy after he ordered a few copies directly from Korea.]
Edited and annotated by Michael J. Devine of the
University of Washington, the book traces the family chronology of the
four generations of the Underwoods of Korea, arguably the most famous of non-Korean Koreans. In the Foreword of
the book Mr. Underwood states that he urged Mr. Devine to list himself as "co-author" rather than Editor.
Horace Grant Underwood was born in Seoul in 1917.
He is the third generation of an extraordinary American family
whose lives have been interwoven with Korean history for more than a century.
In one of the Appendices is listed the family tree
of the Underwoods of Korea. The first Underwood, Horace Grant
Underwood (1859-1916), arrived in Korea in 1885. In 1915 he established Chosun Christian College which later
became Yonhui College and eventually to today's Yonsei University, arguably one of the two top private universities in
Korea, the other being Korea University.
Horace Grant Underwood had one child, a son by the
name of Horace Horton Underwood (1890-1951). Horace
Horton in turn had 6 children, the eldest of whom is Horace Grant Underwood (1917 - ) [Now, you have to pay a close
attention to the recycling names of the Underwoods!], the author of this book. Horace Grant (the third generation
Underwood, that is) has three children, the eldest of whom is, get this, Horace Horton Underwood (1943 - ). It is
Grant, Horton, Grant, and Horton. As stated in Editor's Introduction, "While the Underwoods are a truly remarkable and
talented family, it is clear that they lack originality in selecting names for their children." (!)
The book consists of 11 chapters and each chapter
is accompanied by a brief Chronology of the Korean history
for the periods covered in that chapter. The book is truly a family chronology of the Underwoods, told against the
background the history of Korea of the 20th century. There are many interesting anecdotes, one of which goes
"Once Mother was riding somewhere
in her rickshaw and saw three dirty little boys running along the watering
carts that used the sewer water to sprinkle the streets to keep down the dust [ED. Seoul in 1920s]. She was
thinking how sad it was to see such poor children, when suddenly she realized that they were her three little
The book is not, and never so intended to be, a historical
account of Korea over the past 100 years, not in the same
vein as TROUBLED TIGER by Mark Clifford or THE TWO KOREAS by Don Oberdorfer. It is an interesting family
chronology of the Underwoods that, however, is told against the backdrop of the recent Korean history. It is truly a
personal recollections and as such it is definitely a good read.
John Soohan Lee,
Mary Soojung Lee
Northwestern Medical School
In a personal narrative that actually spans the length
of three generations, Horace G. Underwood delivers a truly
fascinating look at Korean history, culture, and the evolution of its society. Written with the advantage of a foreign ethnic
background, yet as an insider, Underwood provides a unique perspective on life during crucial stages of Korean history.
Born and raised as a third generation child of missionary
parents and grandparents in Korea, Underwood, of American
descent, pays due credit to the two prominent role models in his life: his father and his grandfather. However, his
compelling tale nonetheless portrays the significant impact that this remarkable man has had in Korea, especially through
his connection with the prestigious Yonsei University in Seoul and his service as a language and intelligence specialist
during the Korean War and World War II.
The scintillating details of his personal experiences,
laid out in what Underwood refers to as a "string of memories and
anecdotes", provide a human aspect to a lifetime that witnessed two major wars and the subsequent struggle towards
democracy in Korea, which is often relegated to drab textbook history.
While there are moments when Underwood becomes mired
in the minor facts of his own childhood and inadvertently
obscures the larger picture, this is overcome by the elegance of simplicity and candor in his writing, which provides a
refreshing outlook on historical events. In the end, Horace Underwood's personal narrative is a great addition to the
reading list of anyone interested in Korean history because of its fascinating portrayal of life from a Christian and
Caucasian vantage point in an Asian world.