Where my book lovers at? Until now, South Korea has been on the spotlight for it’s entertainment scene. But not only, the world has been giving special attention to the Korean literature scene. Korean books are quite different from the usual, they have a dark vibe to them.
The country’s literary scene is making a name for itself with dark, transgressive fiction by female writers, some of which might not feel familiar or likable enough for American readers—but they’re well worth the challenge.Vanity Faire
That’s quite a change from the usual soft Korean dramas you see on TV, huh?
Here are 5 brilliant Korean books that you should definitely give a try!
Han Kang, The Vegetarian
As much as the title seems explicit, this book is not really about Vegetarianism. It is rather complex and tackles how women’s bodies are constantly under scrutiny. But also other subjects from love, desire and patriarchy, misogyny and our relationship with each other and with the natural world. The story relies around Kang, a young woman who announces to her family that she’s a vegetarian now. The heroine’s decision sets off a series of unsettling events: her marriage ends, her parents renounce her, she runs the risk of being committed. Such announcement can be trivial some other place in the world, but who knew that being a vegetarian in South Korea could lead to such shocking instances of abuse and loss of control?
Reading the book is a whole experience on itself.
Kyung-sook Shin, Please Look After Mom
About the author: Kyung-sook Shin is the first woman to win the Man Asian literary award(2012) for her book Please Look After Mom.
The plot of the novel is the missing of a mother and what follows is a deeply moving story of a family’s search for their missing mother – and their discovery of the desires, heartaches and secrets they never realized she harbored within. As they argue over the “Missing” flyers they are posting throughout the city, they realize that none of them have a recent photograph of Mom. Soon a larger question emerges: do they really know the woman they called Mom?
This is a mystery of one mother that reveals itself to be the mystery of all our mothers: about her triumphs and disappointments and about who she is on her own terms, separate from who she is to her family. If you have ever been a daughter, a son, a husband or a mother, Please Look After Mom is a revelation – one that will bring tears to your eyes.
Nora Okja Keller, Fox Girl
Okja Keller’s two novels, Comfort Women and Fox Girl, look at the culture of “comfort women” who were forced into sex work during World War II. The women of Fox Girl are regularly degraded and humiliated; one develops a reputation for “doing the things nobody else would do.”
Considering that it took until the 1990s for either the Korean or Japanese governments to begin to acknowledge what had happened to the comfort women during the war, Keller’s books feel downright revolutionary. Smith adds that Korea’s female-centric literature is a particularly interesting field to watch these days:
“Korean society is changing all the time, becoming more globalized. The role of women is a particularly interesting one, I think the way a Western reader might read a Korean book and think they have it lucky. but also get to wondering whether we’re really as free as we might like to think. at least whether we’re using those freedoms as much as we might.”
I love how Korean literature tackles a lot of subjects regarding Women. Which leads us to the next book. Very controversial, it soared in popularity after it was adapted for screens last year (You can find it on Netflix)
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-joo
The pilot follows Kim Jiyoung, 33 with a 0one-year old chil. After she starts taking on the personas of other women in her life, she goes to a psychiatrist who delves into her past, and the struggles she has faced because of her gender. The relentless discrimination Jiyoung faces has ignited a fire for many feminists in Korea.
Cho Nam-Joo’s debut novel, “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982,” is written as a case study on everyday sexism and misogyny.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
pachinko(Noun) A mechanical ball-dropping game similar to pinball, popular in Japan. Etymology: From パチンコ, from pachin onomatopoiec sound + ko diminutive.
Sunja lives on an island called Yeongdo in Busan with her crippled father. After she meets and falls in love with a wealthy older man, her life takes a turn. Pachinko follows the life of Sunja and her family through generations and across borders, from poverty to financial prosperity in an epic tale of hardship and perseverance.
Min Jin Lee gives a voice to those who have been left out of history books. she encourages the reader to consider issues of race, class, and gender. Not only in South Korean history, but in a global context; this is a beautiful and eye-opening novel.
Where to get Korean books?
If you’re in Korea, you can find all the cited books in Kyobo Library in english. Check out my article about Libraries in Korea, they all have a supply of these books. If you are abroad, you can check these books on Amazon‘s Korean literature section.
Enjoy your read!