Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles – Simon Winchester

A spur of the moment purchase at the St Giles Cripplegate summer fete, this book is a gem.

I must confess a general ignorance about Korea, other than random facts such as “It’s the sticky out bit between China/Russia and Japan”, “It is split into North Korea (“baddies”) and South Korea (“goodies”)” and “M*A*S*H was set in the Korean War (and not the Vietnam War as a lot of people assume)”. Having read Simon Winchester’s account of his walk from the island of Cheju in the far south to Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone that forms the frontier between North and South Korea, I feel rather more enlightened, and wondering how best to get my head around developments since 1988 when this book was written.

The route was inspired by the journey made by shipwrecked Dutch sailors in 1688, who became the first Westerners to enter and leave the Kingdom of Korea. As he travels, Winchester provides details of the history, culture and beliefs of the people of Korea since then, and develops insights into how these enabled them to survive the 20th century events of invasion, international, cold and then civil war and to create a thriving economy (Daewoo, Hyundai, Samsung), in the South at least.

Winchester is quite clear that he would have loved to have continued his walk all the way through the demilitarised zone and gained comparable exposure to the people and places of the North. For my part, reading his account has given me the idea of adding another destination(s) to my list (as Catherine observed: going for another country in the Axis of Evil).

Amazon.co.uk link: Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles – Simon Winchester