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Prayer for Peace
Reviewed By: Avraham Azrieli
Avraham Azrieli's most recent novel is "Deborah Rising" (HarperColllins 2016), the story of the first woman to lead a nation in history. www.azrielibooks.com

Prayer for Peace: The Saga of A Korean War Survivor by Aesop Rhim is a memoir in two overlapping parts, providing the reader with an intimate history of the Korean War as well as a poignant personal history of a Korean expatriate, with the two parts combining into a journey of survival, faith and art, fueled by an aspiration for peace.

The author begins with an illuminating, simple truth: “While the focus of the news media is on the hair-trigger tensions, what many people forget is that this is a rather recent and brief chapter in Korean history. For thousands of years, the two Koreas were one nation and shared a unique historical culture. At the end of World War II, the country was divided into North and South by the United States and the Soviet Union, not for the betterment of the country, but for the betterment of their own national interests. Fracture was forced upon this peaceful people, ripping apart families and creating confusion, division, and uncertainty.”

The early part of the book serves as a fascinating first-person eyewitness account of life in Korea from World War II onward, infused with knowledgeable insights, as well as historical, political and international facts, which endow this memoir with solid factual foundations.

Like most teenage boys in 1950s North Korea, the author was drafted, trained, and sent to fight South Korea in a futile attempt as reunification. Yet his story takes a dramatic turn when he escapes an American tank attack, crosses a river and escapes. On his quest for safety, he recounts a symbolic moment of change: “My comrade spotted a high school student’s uniform and pulled it out for me. It was a golden opportunity for me in the situation. I took off my filthy North Korean army uniform and put on the student uniform with a high school logo on the front of the shirt. Immediately, I felt free. In this critical moment, the new clothes would be a lifesaver for me.”

After more harrowing experiences, the author avoids calamity when he is recruited to fight with the South Korean army against his former comrades. His observation about this surreal turn of events is worth quoting: “Switching from a North Korean soldier to a South Korean soldier was a truly miraculous thing. But inside my mind, I was really neither. Like the other young men in the basement and others caught in the war, I was just a young boy struggling with Korea’s destiny.”

Eventually, an illness frees him from uniform, and he grows to embrace the Christian faith and study art in Seoul. Immigrating to the United States, the author earns an advanced degree in graphic design, marries and raises two daughters and, later on, visits North Korea and reconnects with his surviving family members. The tragic September 11 attack on the United States causes him to relive his Korean war experience – “There was similarity between the two tragedies—mass killing and senseless destruction arising from a base of blind hatred” – which in turn reignited his passion for promoting peace and the development of art exhibitions and international missions themed on his Prayer of Peace. The book includes many authentic photographs, which lend wonderful realism to the author’s story, as well as fitting scriptural quotations that tie in with the traumatic events.

In summary, Prayer for Peace: The Saga of A Korean War Survivor by Aesop Rhim is a breathtaking memoir that dramatizes the heartbreaking past (and current reality) of the divided Korean people. The story is told with a keen eye for detail, convincing emotional depth, and cinematic visualization, taking the reader on a voyage of human suffering, resilience, and hope, all together enriched by an overarching sincerity of profound faith and an inspiring hope for peace. Highly Recommended! — Avraham Azrieli, TheColumbiaReview.com