Firstly, I need to apologize to Chris. I should have posted this review weeks ago when I finished his book but somehow I messed up and forgot to post. Menopause brain once again rears it's ugly head. (I don't know what I'm going to blame when this season of my life moves to the next but for now - that's my story and I'm sticking to it.)
There are lots of 20-somethings who head off to the great unknown and try their hand at teaching English in various areas of Asia. I have family members who have taken this path and I'm sure most of you at least know of the trend. Never had I heard, however, of one of these young adults teaching in South Korea. It's not even a country that registered on my radar for this kind of activity. But South Korea is where Chris Tharp ended up. I loved the beginning of the book. We start out exactly where Chris started out in Korea. We arrive with him and, if you are anything like me, share the same knowledge base of the country and what to expect. It all seems a little overwhelming at first as we (Chris + the reader) meet new people and a new culture and try to keep it all straight.
In 'Dispatches from the Peninsula: Six Years in South Korea', the reader is introduced to this amazing culture through the eyes of an outsider. Chris explains what he sees, feels, learns, eats, etc. from the vantage point of an uninitiated citizen. The experiences for Chris start out new and wonderful and confusing just as they would be to the reader were he there. And we progress along with Chris to a point where it all becomes 'normal'. It is a journey of fun and not-so-fun experiences and not a few laughs.
Chris Tharp does an excellent job of describing his temporary country: the friends he makes, the people he meets and the experiences he has while there. The narrative is vivid and inspiring. Reading this memoir has given me a new place to add to my 'to visit' list. I fell in love with the country and the people as I read.
While I found the book to be interesting and easy to read, it needs to be said that it does read like a memoir and not like a novel. The writing flows well and the editing is fabulous but I did not ever get to the point where I thought I was reading fiction. This is not a criticism, just information. 'Dispatches from the Peninsula' reads like what it is. I appreciated that. It kept the reading real for me. The only time I wished the book were more novel-like was at the ending. It felt abrupt. The experience and the book were just over. I know I can't have it both ways but I was left feeling just slightly not done with the book even though the book was done with me.
I know I've read a quote somewhere about books allowing the reader to travel the world, and beyond, while sitting in his own armchair (or something like that). 'Dispatches from the Peninsula: Six Years in South Korea' did that for me. I felt literally transported to a fantastic, new country and then put the book down and realized I was still comfortably settled in my own living room. It was a good feeling.