Gordon Schwerzmann arrived in Korea at the end of 1970 after having served in West Germany. A first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, his tour was to run for 13 months. In that time his interest in the history and culture of Korea and its surrounding countries grew and, after completing his tour of duty, he embarked on his own tour of the Far East, taking in Japan, China, Hong Kong, Burma amongst other ports of call.
There is little in SOLDIER TO SOJOURNER: THE JOURNAL that deals with any military exercises and Schwerzmann rarely discusses the reasons behind the conflict in Korea or his army’s role in it. The author is more concerned, in the opening section, with detailing the day-to-day life of a soldier and, as the book progresses, the culture and history of the region as revealed to him whilst travelling. It is filled with fascinating anecdotes about the minutiae of a soldier’s life. Schwerzmann is very frank about his relationships with women, in particular the prostitutes that worked around the bars that the soldiers frequented. Some of his recollections may seem callous and uncaring viewed through more modern eyes but he is writing about how he acted at the time without the benefit of hindsight or more nuanced contemporary attitudes. Schwerzmann peppers the text with quotes from writers, artists and musicians that illuminate his thoughts and contextualize the history and culture he is uncovering. In addition the book is copiously illustrated, including some of the author’s own poignant photographs.
There are a few malapropisms (e.g. cliché for clique) and a few obvious errors (e.g. Jackson Pollock is called Pollack throughout an otherwise excellent chapter on the author’s artistic endeavors). These are not especially detrimental to the enjoyment of the book but a professional editor would have caught them and perhaps also advised against a number of chapters that seem only tangential to the book’s purpose. The inclusion of chapters on Yoko Ono and on Storyville in New Orleans in particular seem an unnecessary diversion.
Gordon Schwerzmann’s enthusiastic and informative memoir, SOLDIER TO SOJOURNER, details his time serving in Korea and provides a fascinating and insightful account of the culture and history of the Far East of the period.
~Kent Lane for IndieReader