Jid Lee’s journey in life, begun in Korea, has been a fascinating one. Born in 1955, she started out as the fourth child (second daughter) in her family, living on the edge of poverty at a time of political instability and repression, even as the Korean economic “miracle” began to take shape. Her father was a political dissident who had been imprisoned and tortured and later suffered from being blacklisted. In this challenging set of circumstances, Lee also struggled with her demeaned status as a female within both her family and her society. At the dinner table, her father and brothers ate first; then she and her mother and sisters were allowed to share the scraps. The same father who had stood up for “human” rights treated his own daughters like second-class citizens.
Fortunately, for Lee and the reading public, both her spirit and intellect were irrepressible. Interweaving her five-generation saga with the major historical events of the last century, Lee illuminates the heartbreaking circumstances surrounding the Korean War and tackles such difficult and controversial topics as the Comfort Women of World War II; the occupation of Korea by Japan; and the My Lai-esque massacre at No Gun Ri, a story that was covered up for sixty years and is just now coming to light.
Her personal narrative is at the same time a fascinating glimpse of a Korea in transition, as it faced dictatorship, attempts at democracy, and the tremendous cultural and military influence of the West-most of all, the United States. In To Kill a Tiger, Lee vividly describes how the politics of the United States can shape the life of a little girl in another country. She illuminates the ways in which the political violence of a superpower can be internalized in an individual in a distant nation.
But most moving of all is the drama of Lee’s personal development from dutiful Korean daughter to adventurous young woman able and willing to leave everything she knew behind to forge a new life in a strange land. Jid Lee eventually realized her longstanding dream of emigrating to the United States, where she became, as far as she can tell, the first Korean woman tenured in English (not her native language) at an American university. She writes and teaches at a university near Nashville, Tennessee, a long, long way from what was once her home.
By Carrie Cantor