The Korean by Africa Byongchan Yoon | Book Review

“Never let yourself feel hopeless. Find something worth doing and work on it while you’re going through the worst time of your life. Find the voice of someone out there who lifts you high when you can’t.”

Africa Yoon née Engo was about to turn 30. She was a celebrated activist working in Manhattan and around the world, when she found she had gained 120 pounds and was now obese. She realized she needed a life beyond her work and began to dream about having a husband and children. To get her dream, she had to work on herself to get to her goal. The activist started on the road toward the greatest cause of her career—to save herself—and decided she would do a spiritual and physical makeover to find self-love, in hopes it may lead to true love.

One afternoon, at Asian grocery store H-Mart, a Korean grandmother called her fat! After the initial embarrassment of the public moment, the two began an unusual friendship that led her to eating kimchi—and that moment changed everything.
9. The Korean

It wasn’t a surprise that I requested this book on Netgalley. I am already learning the language (moved one step up from Beginner level this year 🙂 ) and have been trying out some of the easier Korean snacks in my kitchen. Of course, I’ve been in love with Kimchi ever since I first tried it. So, I’m convinced my connection with Korean culture was what led me to this book.

Yoon begins by talking about her early life and her charity work, including her much publicized run for charity from New York to Chicago, and meeting Oprah Winfrey.

She describes how her first interaction with the Korean grandmother, or 할머니 (Halmeoni) as they are addressed in South Korea, inspired her to change her relationship with food. Later, she happened to meet a Korean man and eventually married him. I gather the title of the book refers to these two people who have been her guiding force. Must note here that she never found out the name of the Halmeoni and only refers to her husband as The Korean throughout the book.

Yoon’s health struggles after her pregnancy and how it took months before she was correctly diagnosed, form the basis of the second half of the book. Dealing with the fears as a mother and as a woman can take its toll but Yoon focused her energy in setting up her charity and getting funding for it. Once again, she went back to the eating habits she had learnt in the company of the grandmother.

At no point does she consider herself a super woman, rather someone with drive and passion. She wholeheartedly celebrates the support of her husband and her family in helping her through the difficult times.

Africa Yoon’s memoir is not written in the style you would expect. For one, it is much shorter and highlights key events from her life: particularly those connecting her to Korean culture. The pace of her writing is fairly crisp that you seem to be jogging along instead of taking a stroll. It makes her sound more candid, almost as if you’re sitting and chatting with a friend.

I enjoyed reading about how she discovered and learnt Korean food and began to understand the nuances of their culture. Her story as an African woman, living in America, discovering an almost spiritual bond with an Asian culture is both curious and inspiring,   

The Korean – Single and Obese: Then Kimchi Changed Everything! by Africa Byongchan Yoon. Published in 2021 by Blackyoonicorn Press.

Book 13 of 2022.

Aquamarine Flavours Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2.

Available on Amazon*.

About Photo: The Hanbok, as shown on the cover of this book, is the traditional attire of the Korean people. Worn even today on special occasions, it is an important aspect of Korean culture.
These Hanboks are made with paper-folding. The 저고리 (jeogori/jacket) and 고름 (goreum/ribbon) use plain paper while the 바지 (baji/pants) and 치마 (chima/skirt) use patterned paper.
9. The Koreanb
About the Author: Africa Yoon is an author, television host and celebrated activist known for working with young people on issues from education, poverty eradication, racism, at risk youth, obesity, bullying, sexual health and sport. She was awarded the Golden Graal humanitarian prize in Rome for using film and television to educate about HIV/AIDS and named one of the Top 40 Youth Activists in the world by MTV and the Kaiser Family Foundation in her late teens. She has spoken around the world including the United Nations and is recognized for ending her speeches in song and dance. A graduate of New York University/Tisch School of the Arts, Mrs. Yoon bridges culture, activism and entertainment in all her projects.
Born into a family of diplomats including an Olympian turned United Nations ambassador father, and activist mother, she is currently the CEO of Blackyoonicorn, a mommy and me cultural company that sells language and cultural toys for children, and affordable luxury global home goods for their mothers. With a passion for Korean food and health, she runs the popular “Korean Cooking Friends” Facebook Group and cooking app by the same name.
Mrs. Yoon lives in Oahu, Hawaii with her husband and children and splits her time in Busan, South Korea.
You can reach her on Instagram and Facebook.
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