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My Name is Lee

May 4, 2011

I just finished one of the worst books I have ever read. A good idea in theory, it is based on the journal Korean adoptee Lee Quinn Derks’s mother kept throughout his childhood, and presented to him as a 16th birthday gift. Lee interjects his own comments and responses to his mother’s writing, and then continues his story after the journal ends by telling how he met and married his wife, and finally, how he visited Korea for the first time.

Although I was annoyed by the occasional barf-inducing reference to God as “Jesus, my Lord and Savior,” and the overly sunny compliments of his parents, what really caused me to hate this book was the generally bad writing. I can forgive awkwardly phrased sentences, but incorrect punctuation, word misusage, and wrong verb tenses are mistakes that should make any junior copy editor cringe. Mistakes like these get in the way of the message. Content may be king, but for heaven’s sake, you need an effective delivery method. His mother even comments in the journal about how unconcerned he was as a child about things like grammar. If he knew this about himself, why oh why didn’t he get at least one friend to read this manuscript before clicking “publish” on the CreateSpace website? This is the kind of book that gives self-publishing a bad reputation.

I also had real problems with how effusive he was about his his parents and the whole idea of adoption, in general. He said many times how grateful he was and how wonderful they are. That’s fine, and I believe it, but it didn’t need saying more than once, and certainly not verbatim, with such redundancy. Then, when the story opens up, you find that his parents got divorced and his dad moved far away; his mother remarried several times for only four years each time; and she made him a part-owner of her business when he was 11 so that they could be considered a minority-owned business.

He glosses over any negative experiences, including incidents of racism. When the journal ends, the story of his courtship follows, which is just laughable. It is so boring and so badly written, including a few terrible poems that he wrote. I have always been unsure about how you tell if a poem is good. Well, now I know with certainty if a poem is bad.

The trip to Korea happened because he was chosen out of a pool of applicants. He won a spot with his application answers. He admitted he and his wife cried when they read the first paragraph of his own essay. I was rolling my eyes pretty often by this point. The Korea journal section was then mostly an account of places he went and things he did.

I suppose what was most annoying, after the complete lack of concern about the sentences making any sense, was that there was not really much deep reflection. There seemed to be just sunny, earnest exposition and surface description, written in a tone that made it sound like a 10th grader’s voice. There are times to be casual and conversational, and of course every writer should have his own voice, but perhaps not everyone should fancy himself a writer. Even when he found out that his biological father had died, or that he has biological siblings, there was never much exploration into what that meant for him. As open as he seems to be by revealing the entire contents of his mother’s journal, as well as his own reflections, I didn’t finish feeling like I knew much more than data on a resume, and I certainly wasn’t moved.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Julia Bates permalink
    May 8, 2011 7:57 am

    Bad writing is soooooooooo hard to take. I just took back a Fern Michaels’ novel “Exclusive”. She’s supposed to be a NYT ‘Best Seller”!! Sounds like this piece about Korea will be useful to him and to his children, but that’s about all. I’ve been reading Moravian history about the early church. Much of it is like this, historic but not reflective. I now have two written in the 21st century which are finally putting the Moravians into a historical critical context. they use historic details from the first books, when the dates can be confirmed, but are looking instead at the implications of the way Moravians did community and faith. Interesting what we want from our authors and their writing!

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