Book Reviews

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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Book review: The Hairy Bikers’ Asian Adventure

by Philip Gowman 17 March 2014
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Si King and Dave Myers: The Hairy Bikers’ Asian Adventure BBC / Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2014, 319 pp There are plenty of Asian cookery books out there, but I can’t think of a western recipe book that focuses on Korean cuisine. The Korean cookery books that are in my own library are written by Koreans. […]

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Book Review: Hwang Sunmi — The Hen who Dreamed she could Fly

by Philip Gowman 26 February 2014
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Hwang Sun-mi: The Hen who dreamed she could fly Translated by Kim Chi-young; illustrations by Nomoco Oneworld Publications, 2014, 124pp First published as 마당을 나온 암탉, 2000 A brief fable that can delight children and adults alike, the story touches on themes of motherly love, discrimination, otherness, and belonging, while also touching on and accepting […]

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Book Review: Gong Ji-young — Our Happy Time

by Philip Gowman 24 February 2014
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Gong Ji-young: Our Happy Time Translated by Sora Kim-Russell Short Books, 2014, 269pp. Originally published as 우리들의 행복한 시간, 2005 Our Happy Time is not the obvious title for a novel in which a three-times attempted suicide goes reluctantly to visit a convicted murderer awaiting execution on death row. But strangely, as the relationship between […]

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Book review: Jung Young-moon — A Chain of Dark Tales

by Philip Gowman 10 February 2014
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Jung Young-moon: A Chain of Dark Tales Translated by Inrae You & Louis Vinciguerra Stallion Press, 2010, 199pp Originally published in 1998 as 검은 이야기 사슬 Jung Young-moon’s chain of forty-five dark tales are dark indeed. Not in a way that will give you nightmares, but in a way that makes you feel mildly uneasy. They inhabit […]

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Book Review: The Defections, by Hannah Michell. Put it on your wishlist

by Philip Gowman 23 December 2013
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Hannah Michell: The Defections Quercus, 2014, 336pp THE BRITISH EMBASSY, SEOUL STAFF RECORD NAME: Kim, Mia D.O.B: 27/10/1979 POSITION: Translator REPORTS TO: Dalton-Ellis, Thomas NATIONALITY: Korean ETHNICITY: Mixed – Korean/British BACKGROUND NOTES: Born, was educated and lives in Seoul. Family – father, disabled – stepmother, seamstress – mother, English, unknown – uncle, runs school for […]

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Jang Eun-jin: No One Writes Back. Just read it. You won’t regret it.

by Philip Gowman 16 December 2013
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Jang Eun-jin: No One Writes Back First published in Korea as 아무도 편지하지 않다 by Munhak Tongne, Paju, 2009 This edition Dalkey Archive 2013 Translated by Jung Yewon I can’t remember having cried at the end of a novel before, particularly one in which nothing much happens. No One Writes Back is a beautiful gem […]

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Book review: Martin Limón — The Joy Brigade

by Philip Gowman 30 July 2013
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Martin Limón: The Joy Brigade Soho Press, 2012. 304pp Martin Limón’s eighth novel in the Ernie Bascom and George Sueño series covers new ground in many respects. It is the first novel in which we see Sueno on his own, not accompanied by his buddy Bascom. And it is the first time that Limon has […]

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Kim Young-ha: Black Flower – an imaginative re-telling of a fascinating byway of Korean history

by Philip Gowman 13 March 2013
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Kim Young-ha: Black Flower Originally published in Korean in 2003 This edition Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2012, 305pp, Translated by Charles La Shure Black Flower tells the fascinating story of a thousand or so Korean emigrants who sailed from Jemulpo (now Incheon) in 1905 in search of jobs in Mexico, and ended up founding a short-lived […]

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Chung Hye-seung’s monograph on Kim Ki-duk is a must-read, and readable, study of Korea’s maverick director

by Philip Gowman 24 February 2013
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Chung Hye-seung: Kim Ki-duk (Contemporary Film Directors series) University of Illinois Press, 2012, 161pp When is the right time to publish a monograph on a living film director? With the KOFIC collection of books, the schedule appears more driven by wanting to get a complete set of directors covered as soon as possible. For a […]

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Book Review: John Everard – Only Beautiful Please

by Philip Gowman 19 December 2012
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Only Beautiful Please – a British Diplomat in North Korea John Everard Asia/Pacific Research Center, Div of The Institute for International Studies, 2012, 250pp It is always with a sense of duty rather than eager anticipation that I pick up a book on the DPRK, regardless of who the author is. To the extent that […]

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