Blog Showcase: Matthew’s ‘Too Poor for Grad School’ – A Korean Book Review Blog

By Jacklin Lee

Korean literature is no longer an obscure genre in the back aisle of the public library. As the “Korean wave” has been catching momentum so has Korean literature. More and more Korean books and novels been translated into English recently. Korean literature has long been something maybe only Korean historians have been interested in, but not anymore. It has become more mainstream, creating Korean literature clubs on campuses and even blog sites for Korean book reviews! One of the treasures that KKonnect has discovered is the “Too Poor for Grad School” blog site, where the webmaster Matthew Smith posts hundreds of book reviews from Korean historical fiction to biographies. This month, KKonnect wants to showcase some of the books from the blog site!

Title: Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

Author: Blaine Harden

“Shin’s story is amazing, simply put. The book is incredibly moving and unsentimentally objective. A possible weakness in the narrative is that the book is limited to Shin’s own experience whereas Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy charts several diverse stories at once; Shin’s experience was not typical of most North Korean refugees. This is hardly a knock at Harden’s book as it proudly stands as a brilliant account of the world’s most despicable regime’s nightmare of a labor camp. Graphic at times but always moving, pay heed to these atrocities by at least hearing him out. Shin’s is an original story that deserves your attention. You won’t soon forget it.”

Title: The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea

Author: Charles Robert Jenkins, Jim Frederick

“His narration is seductively easy to follow and makes appropriate detours when explanations are necessary to clarify context. The reader is cautiously drawn in to empathize with Jenkins and his plight. His story is told simply with few obvious embellishments. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and wished I picked it up sooner.”

The Webmaster and Korean Lit Guru Matthew Guru

Who are you? Father of two, former U.S. Navy, current schoolteacher and coffee lover, I am currently living and working in Korea.

When and why did you start blogging?  I started writing an online journal back in 2006 and have since enjoyed posting mainly for my own benefit and future nostalgia. As for Korean history-related material, after feeling a bit humbled by realizing that it would be a long time before I could formally study Korean graduate studies, I wanted to stay proactive and self-study. I figured one of the best ways to stay sharp was to read independently and post a review/summary as if it were homework. Granted, it’s self-assigned homework, but I enjoy it. It’s a huge source of motivation.

What are some of your favorite books related to Korea / Korean culture? Choong Nam Kim’s Leadership for Nation Building is an amazing book about the Korean presidents and well worth your time. Korea in War, Revolution and Peace by Horace G. Underwood is one of the most fascinating memoirs I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Finally, Korea through Western Eyes by Robert Neff is an amazing collection of turn-of-the-century Korean firsts like the first streetcar, electric power plant and Western military advisor, among others. No other author on Korean history writes it as interesting as Neff does.

Matthew Smith is a native Texan with a background in Education and English as a Second Language. He currently resides in Korea with his wife and two daughters. His blog can be found at

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