[BOOK REVIEW]Reference book spotty, but deep

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[BOOK REVIEW]Reference book spotty, but deep

A Chinese restaurant prepares hot and sour soup by making a julienne of all the restaurant’s leftovers and then throwing them into the pot with some sugar, vinegar and cornstarch or other thickener. The result, depending on the chef, can be quite delicious.

This book is not so much a dictionary as it is a concise encyclopedia, and it seems that it was made by throwing together all the authors’ notes and stirring the pot. It is admittedly eclectic ("Our selection of entries reflects what we have found important and interesting ..."), and while it works, it is hampered by the lack of any apparent organizing principle other than alphabetical order.

The subjects it does treat it sometimes treats in great depth, but others are brushedoff quickly. If you want to play yut, a boardand-dice game, you can learn it here, complete with historical explanations of how the names of the board squares were derived. With a little work, you can puzzle through the 60-year oriental zodiac, probably in a lot more detail than you want. There is a long (and useful) index of personal names and another long (and not so useful) list of literary and musical words, but no general index. You’ll find yourself thumbing through the book trying to find an entry under several possible names, in English or transliterated Korean. The entries themselves, however, are generously cross-referenced, so once you get on a trail, you can plow ahead or wander off the main subject to your heart’s content.

The book is not intended for the casual reader seeking to learn something about Korea; the brief entries are too focused to put subjects in a broadly understandable context. It shines as a reference book, if your needs happen to match the authors’ interests. For those seriously interested in Korean history or for fact-checkers, the book can be extremely valuable.

by John Hoog

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