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To the Editor:

May 18, 1997

In sum, I believe that both Jonathan Kirsch and Anna Sklar have made cogent points, but it's sad that a division should enter the discussion over whether the "renaissance" of literary L.A. is "real" or not. The Epsteins of the Old Pickwick Bookshop and the Stanley Roses are long gone, and although they were treasured and loved by the L.A. book-buying (and -reading) community, the audience among both young and old has grown exponentially since their day. Just check into any bookstore--chain or independent--or any public library and you will see evidence of a hunger for books that was not seen in the "good old days." Even Sklar admits the legitimacy of "adoring fans" at the book fair.

But whatever their motives (which only they alone can know), better the engaging atmosphere at UCLA last month than the crowded bleachers at the Music Center on the eve of the Academy Awards, where squealing fans help create a scene comparable to something out of West's "The Day of the Locust."

Sam Bluefarb, Diamond Bar

****

To the Editor:

The author of a new book awaits with trepidation and a curious kind of loneliness the reception of his book: a favorable review, a critical review, maybe a rave if one lives long enough. But what he wants most of all from a reviewer, however critical, is fairness and an accounting of what he tried to do in the book, as opposed to another book someone might wish to write.

Donald Kirk's review of "Korea's Place in the Sun" (Book Review, March 23) had none of that but instead was a lengthy recital of what Kirk thinks about Korea and a highly political misreading of my book. Whenever he has a chance, Kirk makes me out to be an anti-American critic and an apologist for North Korea, while distorting my arguments at every juncture. Thus, for example, I "scorn" Syngman Rhee and "glorify" Kim Il Sung, Kirk's evidence being that I say Kim was a guerrilla against the Japanese in the 1930s--as opposed to "the contrary view that Kim might have been just a Soviet front man." No scholar who can read Japanese police and military records (available for 40 years) has denied that Kim fought against the Japanese. He had no relationship with the Soviets from 1932, when he began fighting, until after Pearl Harbor, as attested to by the very Japanese counterinsurgency officers who sought to kill him (and whom I cited).

Kirk seems unable to read my chapter on North Korean corporatism, which is replete with evidence of North Korean repression, which he alleges I forget about, along with various "horrifying reports of refugees who escaped . . . usually via China, to the South." Well, there have been some horrifying reports, but they have all come in the 1990s, since China and South Korea had no relations before this decade; my book is about nearly a century and a half of Korean modernity. Kirk knowingly announces to your readers that things are "stage-managed for foreigners" in Pyongyang, as if I do not go into detail on my own experiences in being "stage-managed," as is every other American who has visited that country.

Korea is still in a Cold War time warp, so I suppose ideological attacks like Kirk's will still find purchase. But your readers should know that Kirk's pretensions of expertise on Korea will fool none but the ignorant. True, Kirk does have a book on one aspect of Korea, a breathless and most often misinformed account of the Hyundai conglomerate, a book competing with mine at the bookstores, as it happens.

Bruce Cumings, Center for Comparative Studies, Northwestern University

Donald Kirk replies:

I'm sorry Cumings has to engage in such rhetoric in denouncing what was basically a favorable review. There was nothing "highly political" in what I wrote, and I never implied he was "an anti-American critic and an apologist for North Korea."

Regarding his comments on Kim Il Sung, there is a subtext here. Records from Moscow since the demise of the Soviet Union have countered some of Cumings' views on the origins of the Korean War. Kim fought with Chinese Communist guerrillas against the Japanese. After the unit was all but wiped out, he and others joined the Russians in Siberia. Commissioned as an officer in the Soviet army, he returned to North Korea after the war.

Regarding Cumings' defense of his passages on "corporatism," his observations appear as a rationale (not "apology") for people and policies in the north. He offers no "evidence" for "North Korean repression." His excuse for not citing refugee reports is more disingenuous. Much of his book covers current affairs, about which refugees say a lot, and older refugees have gone into the history.

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