Book Reviews

Mark James Russell: Young-hee and the Pullocho Tuttle Publishing, 2015, 258pp So annoying. I get sent a review copy of a work of fiction. I warn them that I probably won’t have time to read it properly, but promise to do my best to have a quick flick through it and to write a polite notice […]

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I think I just don’t get Park Kyung-ni

by Philip Gowman 19 April 2015
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Having failed to make much headway with Park Kyung-ni’s T’oji / Land, I thought I might give her Curse of Kim’s Daughters a try, in preparation for a re-watch of Yu Hyun-mok’s film adaptation of the novel. I didn’t particularly enjoy the movie the first time I saw it. But then, so far I haven’t […]

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Book review: Pavane for a Dead Princess

by Philip Gowman 7 April 2015
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Park Min-gyu: Pavane for a Dead Princess Translated by Amber Hyun Jung Kim Dalkey Archive, 2014, 262pp Originally published as 죽은 왕녀를 위한 파반느, 2009 Park Min-gyu’s Pavane for a Dead Princess is the first in Dalkey Archive’s second set (of five volumes) of their Library of Korean Literature. Even though I’ve only had time […]

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Pak Chiwon’s Jehol Diary: An amiable bore abroad

by Philip Gowman 30 March 2015
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Pak Chiwon: The Jehol Diary Translated with notes by Yang Hi Choe-Wall Global Oriental 2010, 208pp The Jehol Diary is a contemporary account of one of the regular journeys from Joseon Korea to Qing China bearing tribute to the emperor. The journey described in this diary took place in 1780, and was ordered by King Jeongjo […]

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Evelyn Glennie’s musical journey in Korea

by Philip Gowman 17 March 2015
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Percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie has just been in the news for winning the Polar Music Prize 2015 along with Emmylou Harris. The award, according to its website, is “one of the most prestigious and unique music prizes in the world, crossing over musical boundaries and awarded to individuals, groups and institutions in recognition of exceptional […]

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Book review: Lee Jung-myung — The Investigation

by Philip Gowman 10 December 2014
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Lee Jung-myung: The Investigation Translated by Kim Chi-young Mantle, 2014, 288pp The central character in The Investigation is a real historical figure: Yun Dong-ju, a poet who had the misfortune to live in the Japanese colonial period. There can be few worse fates for a poet than to be prohibited from writing in his native […]

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Book review: Haïlji — The Republic of Užupis

by Philip Gowman 8 December 2014
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Haïlji: The Republic of Užupis Translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton Dalkey Archive 2014. 160pp Originally published as 우주피스 공화국, Minumsa, 2009. Imagine what Haruki Murakami might come up with in a collaboration with David Lynch, after watching a few monster-free episodes of Doctor Who, and you might get an inkling of what to expect […]

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Book review: Kim Joo-young — Stingray

by Philip Gowman 1 December 2014
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Kim Joo-young: Stingray Dalkey Archive 2013, 124pp Translated by Inrae You Vinciguerra and Louis Vinciguerra. Originally published as 홍어, Munidang, Seoul, 1998 Stingray has the accolade of being allocated #1 in Dalkey Archive‘s set of 10 Korean novels translated into English. It happens to be the third I’ve picked up. The first two were real […]

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Book review: The Birth of Korean Cool

by Philip Gowman 28 November 2014
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Euny Hong: The Birth of Korean Cool How one nation is conquering the world through pop culture Simon & Schuster UK, 2014, 267pp Euny Hong’s first non-fiction book (we loved her novel) is in turn infuriating, entertaining and informative. Let’s get the infuriating bits done with first. In her approach to Romanization she is cavalier, […]

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Bringing Kim Hoon’s Hwajang to the big screen: How to act a swollen prostate?

by Philip Gowman 3 November 2014
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Im Kwon-taek set himself quite a challenge when he decided to make a movie of Kim Hoon’s Hwajang. It is a dense, concentrated and rich piece of writing – I hesitate to say “short story”, because really there’s not much narrative flow. Instead, there’s well-balanced contrast; there’s inner thoughts and emotions; there are the human […]

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Seduced by Yi Seong-gye: the first volumes in the Sillok are translated

by Philip Gowman 18 October 2014
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The Annals of King T’aejo, Found of Korea’s Choson Dynasty Translated and annotated by Choi Byonghyon Harvard University Press, 2014, 1,028 pp I wandered into the University bookshop last night for a browse. I’d just been to see Andrew Killick talk about Hwang Byungki at SOAS, and thought I might try to pick up his […]

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Book Review: The Zen Monastic Experience

by Philip Gowman 21 August 2014
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Robert E Buswell, Jr: The Zen Monastic Experience – Buddhist Practice in Contemporary Korea Princeton University Press, 1992, 259pp A curious tourist visiting one of the popular Korean temples will admire the architecture of the buildings; will poke their nose into the main shrine, nervously wondering whether they’re allowed in and if so what is […]

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“Jazz” in the DPRK: Autumn Whispers and the forbidden fruit of Richard Clayderman

by Philip Gowman 7 July 2014
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I’ve just finished reading Jang Jin-sung’s memoir, Dear Leader. It’s a real page-turner that will appeal to many types of readers, including people who like a good adventure story (the passages describing Jang’s evasion of Chinese and North Korean security forces once he has fled from the North Korean capital are genuinely exciting) and of […]

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Book review: Kim In-suk — The Long Road

by Philip Gowman 29 April 2014
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Kim In-suk: The Long Road Translated by Stephen J Epstein MerwinAsia, 2010, 113pp First published as 먼 길, 1995 When you hear a Korean abroad refer to the locals as “stupid whiteys”, and soon afterwards refer to his fellow countrymen as “mannerless gooks” you know you are dealing with someone who doesn’t feel at ease […]

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Book review: Lee Ki-ho — At Least we can Apologize

by Philip Gowman 27 March 2014
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Lee Ki-ho: At Least We Can Apologize Translated by Christopher J Dykas Dalkey Archive, 2013, 185pp Originally published as 사과는 잘해요, 2009 What do you do to make money when you have a limited set of skills? In this dark comedy the two central characters, who find themselves unexpectedly set free from a mysterious mental […]

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Book review: Jungu Yoon — Spirituality in Contemporary Art

by Philip Gowman 22 March 2014
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Jungu Yoon: Spirituality in Contemporary Art — The Idea of the Numinous Zidane Press 2010, 160pp For a westerner struggling to understand some of the spiritual or mystical elements in both traditional and contemporary Asian art there is a huge barrier in that Taoism and other Eastern philosophies are not something that we have lived […]

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Book review: Mark James Russell — K-POP Now!

by Philip Gowman 19 March 2014
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Mark James Russell: K-POP Now! – The Korean music revolution Tuttle Publishing, 2014, 128pp If the only thing you know about K-pop is Gangnam Style, this book is for you. And even for someone who knows a bit about the subject, this is a handy book to browse. For me, as an occasional lurker and […]

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