Exploring Korean Literature: My booklist

Apart from living in Korea, also on my list was to read some translated Korean literature. I would say that maybe it wasn’t on my radar back home as translated books are more expensive and any efforts at trying to find it at the local library were in vain. There were some that I had bookmarked to read prior to coming to Korea but I didn’t get around to reading those.

Since being here, I’ve made more of an effort and it’s easier to try and see what are the latest translations available. Books here seem to be a bigger than they are back home. I’ve fallen in love with the graphic designs of book covers here which always remind me that I don’t know Korean well enough to read any of them yet!

So far, I feel that the translated Korean books that I’ve read are far more emotive and emotional compared to books that I have read from the English world. I’m not sure whether it’s just these types of books have made it big enough to be translated or if many books are written in this way (or maybe both?) or if it’s due to the Korean language.

Here I’d like to share my little reading list of what’s been read, what is currently being read and what may be to come.

Read

1. Almond by Won-Pyung Sohn
This book is short and quite a joy to read. It tells the story of Yunjae who has a brain condition where he cannot feel or process emotions. From a young age, his mother had been coaching him on how to react and what to feel in different situations. It follows him as he starts school and then after a tragic accident also detailing all the other mentors and allies that appear along the way. It is beautifully written and I found it so hard to have to put the book down.

2. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo
This book was also an interesting read. It follows the life of Kim Jiyoung and her deteriorating mental health. It also explains the life of her mother and grandmother and the role of women in Korean society and the discrimination that they are faced with on a daily basis. A movie adaptation of this book was released a few years ago (which I only found out about this week). This book sparked a huge national discussion and sexism battle and offers a good insight into the conservative country’s gender roles. Despite South Korea’s economic turn around in the last 50 years, gender equality in the country is one of the worst out of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.

3. I want to die but I want to eat tteokbokki by Baek Sehee
The whole book is a dialogue between Baek and her psychiatrist which offers insight into her thought patterns and discussions around them. I was intrigued by the book title and as it was a ‘bestseller’, decided to give it a read. I have to say, I’m not sure about the hype. It was my first time reading a book in this format but I didn’t find it on the whole that insightful or thoughtful and struggled to finish it. It wasn’t the book for me.

Currently Reading

4. Reflections from Prison by Shin Young-Bok
I came across this book whilst browsing in a bookstore here. The book contains different entries/letters that Young Bok wrote to his family during his time in prison and also reflections on some of this life events so that you can piece together this life. Between all these are philosophical observations and thoughts. So far, I’m really enjoying it.

Reading List

5. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
I first heard about Pachinko because of the netflix series but haven’t watched or read the book. The book is about a Korean women Sunja who goes to live in Japan to start a new life. The book is said to follow 4 generations of a family over the span of 80 years. I’ve been hesitant at starting this book as it seems like it will be a heavy read but still remains on my to read list.

6. One Left by Kim Soon
Another book that will be heavy read is One Left. This is the first Korean novel entirely written about comfort women. This book is made up of testimonies from comfort women (from the Japanese occupation) and shares their painful stories but I think still important for their voices to be heard and for there to be a book that exists about it.

Have you read any of these or any other Korean literature that you would recommend?

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10 thoughts on “Exploring Korean Literature: My booklist

  1. Korean literature certainly doesn’t get a lot of hype in the Western world, and they’re especially not as widely-translated into the English language as other literature in places like France, Mexico, or even Russia. From your list here, it seems the common theme is psychology, and especially of Korean women’s as the books discuss mental health and trauma. Sounds progressive compared to actual Korean society, but fascinating all the same!

  2. Thank you so much for posting this! I’ve not read any Korean literature, but I love Korean television, and similarly find it to be more emotionally riveting than most American television. I feel the need to branch out into the literature now. I’m adding these titles to my reading list!

  3. I don’t think I’ve read any Korean book, but the ones you mention seem really interesting and I kinda want to read all of them now ahah I think regardless of the topic or plot of the book, it can always give an insight on the society of that specific country!

  4. ThingsHelenLoves

    What an interesting post! I’m fascinated by the emphasis on womens issues and mental health in the books you’ve highlighted and I’ll certainly be looking to read some of them. I have two teenage daughter who are keen on the ‘K-Culture’ of Korean skincare, TV dramas etc but this is another side. A genuinely interesting post, much enjoyed.

  5. I’ve been reading a lot of Korean literature in English lately. Check out my blog posts.
    I teach at a school for girls. There are many students from Korea and other parts of East Asia. Some have read “I Want To Die, But I Also Want to Eat Teokbokki.” One student from China said she picked it up in a bookstore and read it cover to cover while just hanging out! Mental health issues aren’t discussed in most East Asian countries, but our international students are seeking support at much higher levels these days.

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