What did we know about South Korea coming in? Little more than most Americans do: It’s the most wired nation on earth, the kids are ultra-high-achievers in academics, and they eat kimchi. Surrounded by our LG flat-screen TVs, Samsung smartphones, and Hyundai and Kia cars, most Americans know Korea for its powerhouse consumer brands — and perhaps for the murderous Kim dynasty in the North, whose periodic outbursts alternate between lethal threats and farce.
As for what the worklife was like there, I had no idea. My first taste let me know how vastly different corporate cultures can be.
Robots work in warehouses, explore Mars, assist police, clean floors, and serve as companions for kids and adults alike. But before Furbies there was Frankenstein, before Roombas there was R.U.R., and before androids we had Asimov.
Though the bulk of the pieces are on photography (he’s the photography critic for the New York Times Magazine), he wanders far afield, omnivorously exploring everything from Virginia Woolf to his now-famous essay on the White Savior Industrial Complex. Cole’s takes on everything are seen through the alternating long and short lenses of a modern writer steeped in history. His short essays are the best, simple and elegant, and they sent me to Google to learn more about a wide range of people, including artist John Berger and composer Peter Sculthorpe. The essay on his doppelganger, Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski, is so remarkably done, its content and structure so finely balanced, that I shook my head in admiration at Cole’s skillful hand.
Love has a way of making us do crazy things. Some people move across the country without a second thought; others dedicate their lives to changing everything about themselves in order to win the heart of the person they can’t live without.
Then there’s Andrew, the young British hero of Jesse Armstrong’s debut novel, “Love, Sex and Other Foreign Policy Goals,” who pretends to be proficient in Serbo-Croatian so he can follow his crush to the front lines of the Bosnian war. (Don’t judge until you’ve walked a kilometer in his trainers, mate.)