Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In The Innocent, Richard E. Kim writes of a world he knows well. He was born in Hamhung, Korea, in 1932, and during the Korean War he served as liaison officer to the U.S. Army and as an aide-de-camp in the Korean military. After the war, he took graduate degrees from Middlebury College, the State University of Iowa, and Harvard University.

Kim’s first novel was The Martyred (1964), a philosophical speculation on goodness and truth set in Seoul shortly after the North Korean invasion. The martyrs of the title are twelve Christian missionaries shot to death in Pyongyang by Communists. Two other missionaries are spared, however, and their good fortune becomes the subject of speculation and the basis of a probing examination of moral and spiritual issues that foreshadows the theme of The Innocent.

In Lost Names (1970), Kim re-creates, in the words of his subtitle, “Scenes from a Korean Boyhood.” These seven scenes are set during World War II in a Korea that is occupied by the Japanese, and the “lost names” are names that Koreans have to give up and replace with officially registered Japanese names. The Kims’ new name becomes Iwamoto, or “rock foundation.” These seven essays recover movingly a period and place little thought of by most Westerners and do much to illuminate the sensibility behind Kim’s two philosophical novels.