Written by Danni McDonald ’19
This post is written in response to a course taken with Professor Kirsten Parkinson in the fall 12-week.
Last fall I took a class with Professor Parkinson called Advanced World Literature: Modern Asian Literature. It was not your usual literature class of read, discuss and repeat. Hiram courses are full of energetic discussion and deep topics, but this class went beyond the norm with explorations into new cultures through food, cross-culture communication and in our many activities.
In Modern Asian Literature, I did not know what to expect besides new ideas and details about other cultures. But the brilliant not-so-linear-structure of modern Korean writing, the tear-jerking thriller of a particular Japanese historical novel or the simple surprises in a dictionary-structure book from China.
These books were: Silence by Endō Shūsaku, a historical fiction on Japan; Please Look After Mom by Shin Kyung-Sook exposed us to South Korea while ripping our hearts out; A Dictionary of Maqiao by Han Shagong for China and; lastly, Monkey Bridge by Lan Cao for Vietnam.
The varied cultures and moving texts grabbed my class’s attention creating many animated discussions. For example: Please Look After Mom made many of us call home crying to our mothers, making sure they were okay.
Silence was the most impactful book to me. Through it, I was able to see Shūsaku’s global popularity. Maybe it’s because the new movie with Liam Neeson and Andrew Garfield is still stuck in my head (84% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes! ) but the blood and gore of my 1984 copy looked terrible. Despite the sad and disturbing storyline, we fell in love with the book while agonizing and worrying over the plot and characters.
It was when I was sitting in lunch one day, reading Silence when Yui Chikazawa, one of our exchange students from Kansai Gaidai University of Japan exclaimed, “Endō Shūsaku!” She had never read the book but instantly recognized it and told me of its popularity back in Japan.
Another connection to Japan came to our classroom thanks to a chance meeting between Prof. Parkinson and Professor Motoi Katsumata of Meisei University while she was teaching a study abroad in Japan. Professor Katsumata teaches Japanese Literature so once our class had read Silence, his class in Japan sent us a video with their reactions and analysis of the book.
Each student presenting in the video had shockingly similar views to our own. In response we made our own video! We scrambled to write scripts and responses while learning bits of Japanese such as Konnichiwa, Owayo, Sayonara etc. For my response, I went a little overboard with the help of a close friend of mine, Mai Inoue (Also from Kansai Gaidai University!). We wrote and translated my introduction paragraph into romaji Japanese (Japanese spelled out in the Roman Alphabet) and then she helped me learn how to pronounce and speak everything correctly in her bouncy Osaka dialect.
On the final day of class, we held a celebration in the beloved Bonney Castle. I learned how to make Okonomiyaki in the tiny kitchen and we had mochi, buns and many different Asian snacks.
In my Modern Asian Literature class, we did more than avidly discuss and enjoy the texts, we connected to a classroom on the other side of the world and literally got a taste of many different cultures. Whether I was stumbling through Japanese, learning how to cook a new dish or figure my way through A Dictionary of Maqiao… my learning, in classic Hiram style, went beyond the pages and into our lives.