Seeing Like a Child is a deeply moving narrative that showcases the emergence of an unexpected voice from an established researcher. Through an unwavering commitment to a child’s perspective, Clara Han explores how the catastrophic event of the Korean War is dispersed into a domestic life marked by small corrosions and devastating loss. Han writes from inside her childhood memories as the daughter of parents who were displaced by war, who fled from the North to the South of Korea, and whose displacement in Korea and subsequent migration to the United States implicated the fraying and suppression of kinship relations and the Korean language. At the same time, Han writes as an anthropologist whose fieldwork has taken her to the devastated worlds of her parents—to Korea and to the Korean language—allowing her, as she explains, to find and found kinship relationships that had been suppressed or broken in war and illness. A fascinating counterpoint to the project of testimony that seeks to transmit a narrative of the event to future generations, Seeing Like a Child sees the inheritance of familial memories of violence as embedded in how the child inhabits her everyday life.
In beautiful, captivating prose, Han develops four intriguing themes. First, within the scene of illness, she shows that the eventful and the uneventful mark both the catastrophic and the everyday. The uneventful illness can be a catastrophic loss of home, while the domestic can be the scene of the reinhabitation of everyday life in the wake of catastrophic violence. Second, the inheritance of war is never simply one of a transmission, but involves the child’s learning of a world marked by loss, and by the different impulses that reside within kinship. Third, the sibling relation reveals how words—used among children to create a world—are encrusted with experience. Thus, words themselves bear witness to loss and to survival. Fourth, through describing the experience of migration, Han shows the temporal depth of war and its traversal of geographic boundaries.
Seeing Like a Child offers readers a unique experience—an intimate engagementwith the emotional reality of migration and the inheritance of mass displacement and death—inviting us to explore categories such as “catastrophe,” “war,” “violence,” and “kinship” in a brand-new light.