Mary Bonina, author of My Father’s Eyes
Drawing upon his real life experience in an East Asian culture, Matthew Caracciolo, a very mid-western American writer, who embarked on the adventure of living and working as a teacher of English in South Korea, gives the reader of The Waygook Book, a window into what it is like to be suddenly immersed in a world so very different from one’s own. The author recounts how he and his wife happened to be in such a situation, not wanting to settle back into their Ohio hometown before more global exploration. They are lured as well, by the possibility of travel beyond a home base in Daegu, and a salary that would help settle debts. This book serves as a reference for travelers of all kinds and anyone considering working in South Korea–not just an adventurous young person aware of the country as a popular destination for millennials in the U.S. struggling to earn enough to have a decent standard of living and also help with repayment of burdensome loans that financed college tuition.
There is no shortage of history, humor, food recommendations, and especially slice of life anecdotes that reveal situations often odd and unlikely to a U.S. native, who must navigate and try to learn from them. As the author of a memoir, I read this book as one belonging to that genre. But those who purchase it because of its front cover subtitle, “A Foreigner’s Guide to South Korea,” will not be disappointed, since the narrative focuses not just on the city of Daegu, the location of the author’s living and teaching assignment, but includes accounts of trips to islands, resort destinations, historic sites and villages, the mountains, and of course to many cities, and even the DMZ. At the end of the book in “About the Author,” The Waygook Book is described as the author’s first novel, and as in a novel, a genre depicting the changes characters are put through and their subsequent growth or destruction, the reader learns early on in the chapter “Becoming Metyu Teacher” that Caracciolo is starting at square one, beginning “As much as I wanted to control my surroundings, I was stuck in the flow of “follow and react” for a long time. There wasn’t much of a choice. I didn’t know the students and the students didn’t know me, and we didn’t know each other’s language.” By the end of his tour of duty as a foreigner teaching English in South Korea, the author is moved at his farewell meeting with the faculty and principal of the school, and in his farewell speech, the author’s words fail him–even English words and he realizes, “What I wanted to say was that I was entirely grateful to be made part of the group…for two years.”
With writing that is direct, explicit, full of keen observation and perceptiveness applied to personalities and human nature, as well as diligent historical research, Caracciolo has written a book that combines genres and thoroughly entertains and informs.