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Times Literary Supplement: Michael Booth, “Three Tigers, One Mountain”

Were does Europe end and Asia begin? “If someone can pose as an expert on the country in question without knowledge of the relevant language, it’s part of Asia”, the American North Korea analyst Brian Reynolds Myers once quipped. Michael Booth doesn’t pose as an authority on the Koreas, or on the other countries in Three Tigers, One Mountain: A journey through the bitter history and current conflicts of China, Korea, and Japan, but his linguistic strategy is that of many an Asia “expert”: “They don’t speak any English so I attempt a mime”, he writes of an interaction with South Koreans at a historical site, “but that only serves to confuse matters further”.

A Briton resident in Denmark, Booth presents himself as an enthusiastically interested if occasionally befuddled outsider, a safe choice given the sensitivity of his subject. “The Chinese, Koreans and Japanese, along with a fourth tiger, Taiwan, would appear from a distance to have everything to gain from harmonious relations”, he writes, “and yet they seem constantly to be on the brink of a potentially serious conflict. Many believe that if there is to be a World War III, it will most likely begin here”. The author sets off on a journey from Japan to South Korea to China, then to Hong Kong and Taiwan and back to Japan, asking one question: “Why can’t the nations of east Asia get on?”

Read the whole thing at the Times Literary Supplement. See also my previous essay on the book at the Los Angeles Review of Books Korea Blog.