Nonfiction Book Review: Beyond the Shadow of Camptown: Korean Military Brides in America (2002)

book cover for beyond the shadow of camptown: korean military brides in america by ji-yeon yuh

Beyond the Shadow of Camptown: Korean Military Brides in America by Ji-Yeon Yuh

This book reminded me of The Feminine Mystique, although it took me a while to realise why. Both focus on women during and after the 1950s and the changes that impact them in their daily lives. But where The Feminine Mystique focuses on women unhappy with their lives in the domestic setting, Beyond the Shadow of Camptown traces the lives and experiences of Korean women who married US military men and then began their lives in the United States and are thus plunged into that setting.

Many of the women Yuh interviews were the first and, for a long time, only Korean in their new neighbourhoods in the US, and often their lives had to conform around their husbands’. Everything from their daily language to their friendship circles to their homemade meals changed. [The chapter where American meals and Korean meals are compared and examined was fascinating (and made me really hungry!).] But it was truly eye-opening and heartbreaking to read women often found that they could not cook freely in their own home, and so they cooked meals for each other and found ways to recreate their favourite Korean dishes in towns where there were few ingredients to find.

A deep loneliness resonates through the pages; I think that’s why it made me think of The Feminine Mystique. The women Yuh interviews describe being often utterly lonely in their homes, emotionally and linguistically unable to fully communicate with their husbands, and sometimes even unable to properly connect with their children as a result. Many of them describe being used and sneered at by their families despite sending money home or caring for their children due to how much stigma surrounded their marriages. Many were ostracised not only from their family, but their former friends and even other immigrants for their choice to marry a military man due of the assumptions made by others of the circumstances surrounding their marriages (assumptions which stemmed from the camptowns mentioned in the title).

But there is also a coming together of the women that is beautiful. Yuh also discusses the burgeoning women’s groups these women start and the cross-country connections they make to bring each other together and help future generations of military brides begin their new lives abroad. I found myself utterly amazed by their perseverance and courage.

This is a truly fascinating, heartfelt and ultimately kind book. Highly recommended.

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