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A Yang for Every Yin: Dramatizations of Korean Classics
Price per Unit (piece): KRW 18,000
USD 16.24
Author: John Holstein
Publisher: Seoul Selection
Pub. Date: Jan. 2005
Pages: 236
Cover: Softcover
Dimensions (in inches): 10.04 x 6.85 x 0.43
ISBN: 9788995376041
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The author has adapted a few of Korea's favorite traditional stories to the stage, with songs and extensive historical and cultural notes, for a modern audience. These plays are based on stories from Korea in the 17th and 18th centuries, and they are still being told in the 21st century, in their original pansori venue but also on TV, stage and film. While Joseon Dynasty was closed off from the rest of the world, it was developing a world-class literature. Four of the five plays in this book are dramatizations of pansori, one of old Korea's most highly-developed performance arts; you may already have heard about Chun Hyang, Hungbu and his brother Nolbu, Hare and the Sea Palace, or Ong Go-jip. The other play is based on the popular short story, Grandpa's Wen. All of these stories were passed down orally through many generations, developing all along in complexity and sophistication, until the 18th and 19th centuries, when they were set down in written form. Confucians wrote the moral lessons into the stories; but loyalty, honesty, modesty and generosity are basics in any system of values. All of us will cluck our tongues at sadistic Byon Satdo in "Chun Hyang Song," hypocritical Nolbu in "The Gourds' Rewards," the vain hare in "Harelip," greedy Grandma Lopside in "The Song Bag" and miserly Ong Go-jip in "The Money Bug." Our hearts go out to faithful Chun Hyang, generous Hungbu, loyal Tortoise. It would be difficult to find a person anywhere in this world who does not appreciate a good laugh; the hare's "instant concentrated rabbit-liver tablets," the goblins' solution for Grandma Lopside's greed, and Nolbu's ingenious methods for tormenting his younger brother register as favorably with Westerners as they do with Koreans. Enjoy the audio versions of the songs at our website. -------

Another Book Review By Mike Weisbart Korea Times Columnist 02-04-2005 19:13 A Yang for Every Yin: Dramatizations of Korean Classics By John Holstein Seoul Selection, 2005, 236 pages Perhaps the best way to describe John Holstein's new book, A Yang for Every Yin, is a grand effort at transmogrification. In it, he and his collaborators blend old and new, east and west, play and song, and numerous other elements to serve up five Korean classics in a book that is at once a highly serviceable drama guide to modern performances and a readily accessible and contemporary vantage point to view Korean culture and history. The plays are a fun read, to boot. The magic of Holstein's work is that the writing enables a western entree into the world of Korean fable and drama. The use of contemporary English as opposed to unembellished translations of Korean text offers an entertainingly fresh perspective on stories that have been passed down for a long, long time. The result of the author's efforts is a truly remarkable cross-cultural literary achievement. This reviewer's Korean ability does not afford the luxury of being able to judge the accuracy of the tremendous amount of translation and interpretation that has gone into the book's production. And surely there will be some among us who are obsessive enough to question certain decisions and liberties that Holstein takes to reproduce each story. In "The Song Bag," for instance, we get the tale of two old men, each afflicted with a harmless but ugly facial cyst. The first old man has the good fortune to rid himself of his cyst and gain some gold in the bargain. The second man sees this and hatches a deceptive scheme to lose his own cyst and get some treasure as well. In most renditions of this fable, the second man ends up miserable as he's forced to keep his cyst and gets stuck with the other man's as well. Indeed, that does come to pass. But the ending in Holstein's version is much sweeter than it is bitter. And "a rose is a rose by any darn name," is surely the last thing we expect the man to sing after his plan fails. But nitpickers - if there are any - miss out on the fun. In any event, accuracy is hardly the point here; after all, this is drama. But the author's contribution does not stop at helping us to put on an entertaining show. Each play is followed by an "Afterword" that provides the cultural and historical background for each story. And although these brief essays have all the literary charm of a dried up piece of maeju, they represent the author's scrupulous research efforts and serious attempts at understanding what preceded his own recreations. The effort grants him the legitimacy to make the decisions necessary to turn these ancient stories into modern readings and, despite their aridness, the afterwords are rich in detail that are not easily found elsewhere. Your humble reviewer devoured each one twice. It should also be mentioned that Holstein has not created this work in isolation. Gary Rector, who along with Holstein has been in the country since 1967, composed, edited, or arranged all of the songs and created the MP3 files that can be downloaded from the publisher's website. William Cleary penned Chun Hyang Song, a time and audience-tested adaptation of perhaps the most famous of all Korean stories, and composed all of its songs. Finally, the book is rounded out with the imaginative and thought-provoking illustrations of Chang Sun-hwan. mike_weisbart@hotmail.com Book Review Ancient Tales A Yang for Every Yin: Dramatizations of Korean Classics by John Holstein, Seoul Selection, 2005 Paperback 236 pages ISBN 89-953760-4-x Reviewed by Adelaida Lower ARIRANG MAGAZINE Summer 2005, pp. 40-41 Before words were seen and read they were sung. Across the world, well before books and written alphabets, people gathered around fires to listen to the singers of tales. These sung narratives were transmitted orally from one generation to the next, forming a stock of folklore stories that spread throughout the globe. In Korea, these stories generally came via China, and, as they were repeated over and over, they adopted the flavor of the country, reflecting its changing mores. Five of these ancient stories form the basis for the five plays in this book: "Harelip," "The Song Bag," "The Gourds' Reward," "The Money Bug," and "Chun Hyang Song." In the fascinating introduction to his book A Yang for Every Yin, John Holstein explains the trajectory these timeless stories took before and after they arrived in Korea. Three of them started in India, became Buddhist moral tales and until the 18th century, underwent countless alterations. As he puts it, "Folklore is a living thing. Like any form of life it maintains its basic nature even as it adapts and develops. Our stories have changed from era to era and locale to locale." By the 18th century, having been affected by Korea's beliefs [Shamanism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism) they sprang anew in pansori [from pan meaning "place" and sori, "sound" or "song"). Pansori is a uniquely Korean art form in which a singer, or kwangdae, sings a narrative work, accompanied by one gosu or drummer playing a barrel drum. Pansori then, although highly sophisticated, harks back to the earliest sources of human creativity, to those ancient singers of tales and their stories. Four out of the five stories in this book were performed as pansori. The plays in this book are yet one more version, faithful to the characters of one or more of the Korean adaptations, universal in spirit and yet true to their unique Korean milieu.      John Holstein, a professor at Sungkyunkwan University since 1982, takes the reader easily from that learned and very readable introduction to the book's first play, Harelip, which starts: "Down, down, deep down, where the sun does not shine and never has, and nary a cloud has run, in another world, another time, deep down in the lowest depths of the East Sea where the Dragon King rules his realm, grief now rules his subjects' hearts. The Dragon King is in bed, sick—dying as a matter of fact..."      All five plays are direct, humorous, and, in many cases, revealing. "The basic elements of folklore," John Holstein writes, "are as universal as the human heart." The fifth play, written by William Cleary, is based on the well-known story of the faithful and beautiful Chun Hyang. The illustrations will help Westerners visualize items alien to their culture. I also enjoyed the explanations at the end of each play. Altogether, this is an enjoyable book and a boon to students of  Korea.
 
 

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