Colin Marshall, author of 'No Summarizing Korea' / Courtesy of Colin Marshall

There’s no denying it: Colin Marshall’s new book is a big hit. The Korean press has praised it. Sales are strong. Interview requests keep coming. The book is in Korean, a project by a publisher that wants to bring foreign perspectives to Korean-reading audiences’ attention. This particular “foreign perspective” having succeeded, it’s worth a look.The book’s title translates as “No Summarizing Korea.”Its writer, Colin Marshall, has for years “translated” Korea for English-reading audiences, as a columnist for such places as The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Review of Books and The Guardian. He is a practitioner of informed, thoughtful, on-the-ground “Korea” writing. But he is neither a neutral observer nor a both-sides player. He is a fan of Korea, and of its culture. The book’s cover includes what appears to be a caricature of Marshall as a lanky, comic character. Huge magnifying glass in hand, he pokes around Korean culture. Such is the publisher’s promotional pitch. A fresh view on Korean culture, through the discerning eye of a foreign mega-fan, or “deokhu.”But a more-useful framing of “No Summarizing Korea” is that it’s a cultural-engagement memoir. Marshall proposes the term “Korea connoisseur” to describe his approach to cultural engagement. He says he wants to avoid “summarizing Korea, judging Korea or explaining Korea.”Like any would-be connoisseur, Marshall has little time for “top 10 ‘best’ things about Korea”-type commentary (the social media-driven, click-seeking, neo-genre of writing found all over the internet). In essay form, though, he tries it out: “43 Reasons Everything in Seoul Is Good and Nothing Is Bad (or Something Like That).”

It’s unclear how much the semi-ironic tone Marshall tries out in that essay (originally published in English) is “translatable.” Marshall elsewhere says Korean culture has “a relative lack of irony.” It’s another reason to admire Korea over “the West,” where irony is out of control. This tone — things in Korea are special and great — holds throughout “No Summarizing Korea,” mostly.What made Colin Marshall so “pro-Korea”? Interspersed throughout the text are pieces of the answer. The earliest encounter, at about age 15, ca. 2000, was with very early K-pop (via Napster, a music-sharing internet sensation of the day). More importantly, he discovered Korean movies around 2008, at the library in University of California, Santa Barbara.Those Korean-cinema DVDs were a turning point. Metaphorically, they were seeds. A pre-existing interest in Asia was fertile soil, as were aspiring literary and film interests. Discontent with California’s direction shored everything up. (Marshall frequently uses the term “the West,” sometimes disparagingly — and, on any matter touching urbanism, almost always disparagingly. His “the West,” though, often seems to mean “Southern California.”)Living in Santa Barbara, 2003-2011, Marshall attended university there and got his start in radio broadcasting and journalism. After that fateful encounter with Korean cinema, he took on Korean-language study as a hobby. Today, he is a committed language-learning enthusiast (studying six languages); it all started with Korean.By the early 2010s, Asia beckoned. There was Japan. But a “foreigners’ narrative” on Japan had become strong, Marshall recalls feeling. It was so strong that it would swallow any newcomer who touched it. But Korea, he sensed, was an open field.From late 2011 to late 2015, Marshall lived in Los Angeles. Most or all that time, he lived in the LA Koreatown. That choice of neighborhood symbolically confirms his man-on-a-mission status. In one telling essay, he jointly defends the honor of Seoul and Los Angeles, “two unfairly maligned cities.” A blending-of-worlds “acculturation” process began for Colin Marshall well before he left America.

There are parallels, here, with the young “K-culture fan” archetype more familiar today. There are lots of Westerners born in the 2000s, around 20 years Marshall’s junior, who will be able to write Korean cultural engagement accounts comparable to Marshall’s. So far, they lack the perspective to do so, perspective which Marshall already has.If we are interested in casting Marshall as a pioneer, and in casting his book as a cultural engagement memoir, some follow-up reflections on his essays would have helped. So would firm dates attached to the essays. The book has no dates of composition. It isn’t immediately clear that they were written over eight years. It’s useful to know, though, that his “Gangnam Style” retrospective essay first appeared in The New Yorker in August 2022 — and not back, say, in 2015.Marshall argues that the West’s K-culture wave started with PSY’s “Gangnam Style” YouTube video in mid-late 2012. That is fair game for debate. But 2012 aligns nicely with Marshall’s own interesting life trajectory. Around that time, he could have abandoned his Korea interest. But, no. He pursued it, with an Alice-Through-the-Looking-Glass intensity. Korean-language acquisition eventually became a major life goal.Without learning Korean, Marshall says, deep and meaningful cultural engagement with Korea(ns) is impossible. Language-acquisition reminiscences, reflections and strategies pop up throughout “No Summarizing Korea”: back in LA, memorized one-liners delivered to restaurant ajummas (understanding not one word of what the ajummas said back was okay; long journey, single steps…); Korean TV (a commitment to the travel-show “Hanguk Gihaeng” and a language-mastery game show); podcasts; book clubs. By the late 2010s, we find Marshall consuming books in Korean. (No wonder his writing in Korean is so strong.)About 29 of the 34 essays were originally published in English, between late 2015 to mid-2022. Marshall translated and adapted his essays into literarily eloquent Korean. About five of the essays are originally in Korean compositions, and they seem to have been made last, around 2023.The book is “set” primarily in late-2010s Seoul, often taking a first-person perspective. One of the composed-in-Korean original essays is a nostalgia-tribute piece to western Seoul’s Sinchon area, where Marshall lived for seven years. The “nostalgia” is, it would seem, more for his successful cultural engagement life project than the place (now married, he lives a mere half-hour 카지노사이트킹 away by subway).

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