THE BOOK OF CORRECTIONS: Reflections on the National Crises during the Japanese Invasion of Korea 1592-1598 by Yu Songnyong
Also known as the Jingbirok, this first person account of the Imjin War was written as a record of the Japanese invasion of Korea (1592-1598) and all the things that went wrong for the Korean government and military throughout the conflict. Of course it also documents some incredible wins too (for instance, Admiral Yi and his incredible heroic story) but on the whole, the purpose of the book was to present mistakes for what they were, in the hopes that they would not repeat in the future.
This book is extraordinary! If you like history of any kind, but particularly if you like Korean and Joseon history, this book is an amazing read! I couldn’t recommend it highly enough!
There bloody isn’t one!
MY THOUGHTS and BOOK REVIEW:
I finished this extraordinary true account of Joseon’s involvement in the Imjin War from 1592 to 1597 and oh my gosh, I feel like I don’t even have words for how much I loved reading this. I feel like it is incredible on so many levels.
As a fan of Joseon history, I learned so much through this book, but it feels like more than that. I think maybe because of the first-person memoir style narration, it really reminds you that these were real people who lived real lives and it brings you in very close to something that otherwise feels very far away.
It is so strange to be a modern reader with access to the thoughts and descriptions of a man who actually lived through this terrible and tragic war. The language is straight forward and accessible too, despite being written five hundred years ago and I found the footnotes extremely helpful in understanding the context behind the text.
This account was created as a book of corrections, and it is filled with instances of terrible management of the war effort by the Joseon king and most of the men in charge. Of course, there were exceptions, but it felt like anyone who had good ideas or strategies was blocked at every turn by political in-fighting and higher ups with something to gain or lose. The Korean armies were not trained and under-equipped (to the point where volunteer armies were raised across the whole country, as the military consistently collapsed at every battle) and the men in charge were most often not military men, and very few had a head for strategy.
The Korean army was up against a formidable foe of trained samurai seasoned by a period of civil unrest in Japan (and of course, this being war, it was very gruesome – this isn’t in the book but I did learn from background reading about the 39,000 noses cut from Korean men, women and children during the Imjin war that were brought back to Japan by samurai as proof of death, and which still lie in a monument mound in modern Kyoto today … so intense!)
The whole book was an incredible reading experience for a Joseon history buff like me, but I think one stand out section was the lead up to (think riots and evacuations and the king deserting his people) and the actual battle for Pyongyang (the first one when the Koreans were driven out and the Japanese armies moved in to the fortress to occupy the city). This was written in such a descriptive first-hand account way that really stood out for me. The author witnessed this terrifying battle himself and describes the events in detail. and now, 500 years later, I am able to read this account translated into English. Far out.
I am really keen to read more memoir style accounts of Joseon history, but am not too sure what else is out there. But I am going to have a look!
I highly recommend this book for any history buffs, particularly if you like Korean history!
Thank you for reading, please feel free to leave a comment below!
LEE EVIE is a podcaster, blogger and author of dark historical fiction set in old Korea.
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