No Couches in Korea Review
No Couches in Korea is a book that I really wanted to love. Kevin Maher is a good friend of many of my old co-workers and it was through them that I heard about him, and this book. The premise seems interesting enough-an English teacher’s journey through a year in Korea during the mid-late 90’s. The story is decently well written and seems to follow a reasonably organized timeline. If you want a book that details what life is really like teaching abroad in excruciating detail, this one is it. I found myself thinking the entire time, “Yup, happened to me!” or, “Sounds exactly like my experience.” The author does portray the experience of going through the stages of culture shock quite well. Also portrayed well is “Hagwon life” and precisely how chaotic and disorganized that can be. However, that’s pretty much all the praise I could muster up for this one.
English Teacher X in the Back of my Mind
Now perhaps it’s my own fault for having English Teacher X, who writes about teaching abroad in a hilarious, and very insightful way in the back of my mind. But, No Couches in Korea was neither hilarious, nor especially insightful about Korean politics or society. I read the first few pages, which weren’t that engaging and ended up skimming the rest. As one reviewer on Amazon mentioned, the characters seemed flat. I agree with him completely on that one and the result is a book that you can put down and forget about without even a second thought. I honestly didn’t really care what became of the main character. I read the end in a bit more detail, hoping for some lessons learned, or insights gained but it also fell short in that regard. It finished up mostly with random bits about travels around Asia and more ex-girlfriend drama.
An Awkward Time Period
Another problem is that No Couches in Korea falls into an awkward time period. A book that is based on an English teacher’s experience in the 1970’s or 80’s in South Korea would have been genuinely interesting to me. Again, perhaps it’s my own fault for having Simon Winchester’s A Walk Through the Land of Miracles in my head while I read this one. The late 1980’s, when this book was based was indeed a period of serious social and political turmoil in Korea. And Winchester writes with a great awareness of the nuances of Korean culture. Alternatively, a book based in 2014 or 2015 could be helpful for those deciding whether or not to go to Korea to teach abroad. As it is, I just don’t really know who the target audience for No Couches in Korea is. Perhaps Maher doesn’t really have an idea about this either?
Less Drama, More Korea
One reviewer on Amazon mentioned: “I wanted more tidbits about Korea but I got all the drama of this guy’s work and relationship drama instead.” That about sums it up for me as well. More Korea tidbits, less work and girlfriend drama. Overall, it’s not a terrible read and I’d give it a solid 3/5. To be fair, perhaps someone who hadn’t lived in Korea for 10 years would have found it more interesting that I did. However, my hope is that Maher takes the negative reviews to heart, reworks it and puts out a second edition. There is potential there for something a whole lot better.
Note: I received a free copy of No Couches in Korea from the author in exchange for my honest review on this blog.