Book Reviews

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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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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