Here’s some of the books I’ll be looking out for in 2008.
First, Mark James Russell’s Pop Goes Korea
From kim chee to kim chic! South Korea came from nowhere in the 1990s to become one of the biggest producers of pop content (movies, music, comic books, TV dramas, online gaming) in Asia-and the West. Why? Who’s behind it? Mark James Russell tells an exciting tale of rapid growth and wild success marked by an uncanny knack for moving just one step ahead of changing technologies (such as music downloads and Internet comics) that have created new consumer markets around the world. Among the media pioneers profiled in this book is film director Kang Je-gyu, maker of Korea’s first blockbuster film Shiri; Lee Su-man, who went from folk singer to computer programmer to creator of Korea’s biggest music label; and Nelson Shin, who rose from North Korea to the top of the animation business. Full of fresh analysis, engaging reportage, and insightful insider anecdotes, Pop Goes Korea explores the hallyu (the Korean Wave) hitting the world’s shores in the new century.
This rare glimpse into North Korean society is the first book of its kind: a riveting collection of state-sponsored propaganda posters that presents the unique graphic sensibilities of this little-known country.
Seldom seen by the outside world, North Korea’s propaganda art colors the cities and countryside with vibrant images of brave soldiers, happy and well-fed peasants, and a heroic and compassionate leader. More than 250 of these posters are collected here for the first time, showing the wide range of North Korean propaganda art. Hand-painted pieces of art, these posters display the latest political slogans that are repeated in newspaper editorials, government declarations, and compulsory study sessions throughout the country. A collection that will appeal to artists and graphic designers as well as those interested in this closed society, this book may not represent the reality of North Korea, but rather a vision of the country as promoted by its regime and depicted by its state-sponsored artists.
From Prestel publishing, with a release date anticipated in April / May.
And for me, the highlight of the year, LKL contributor Jennifer Barclay (left) brings you:
Meeting Mr Kim
Or How I Went to Korea and Learned to Love Kimchi
Feeling burned out professionally after turning 30, Jennifer Barclay had a hankering to experience something different. So when her drummer boyfriend landed a contract to play funk music in Seoul, she quit her job and went to South Korea. But life in Seoul was lonely and bewildering; she realised that people hadn’t come here for pleasure for a long time.
Desperate to connect with Korean life and people, Jennifer left the capital and wandered the country alone, and found herself at ancient tombs and Buddhist temples and on empty mountains, and people’s kindness and pride in their culture began to work magic. They were on a mission to ensure she left with happy memories.
Meeting Mister Kim scratches the surface of South Korea, revealing a people full of passion and good humour.
‘It is high time that a new book be written about Korea, and Jennifer Barclay’s fresh, amusing and light-hearted take on the country seems to be precisely the right approach.’ Simon Winchester
‘Brilliantly evokes the strangeness of Seoul for a western visitor — a very lively account — So little is written about South Korea, and there is so much to see and to interpret … invaluable and entertaining reading for any prospective visitor.’ Margaret Drabble
‘One woman’s touching and humorous voyage to the very heart of Korea, a country of great diversity, spirituality and charm. It is written with real insight and thoughtful reflection.’ Anna Nicholas
With recommendations like that, this book should be at the top of your Amazon wishlist (when Amazon starts listing it, that is). From Wakefield Press, with an anticipated summer release.
And YOU can contribute to the project. All the book lacks at the moment is the icing on the cake: namely some cover art. So if you have a great photograph or would be interested in providing original artwork that might fit the bill, please get in touch with Jennifer at
The Reluctant Communist is the memoir of a US army defector to the DPRK:
In January of 1965, twenty-four-year-old U.S. Army sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins abandoned his post in South Korea, walked across the DMZ, and surrendered to communist North Korean soldiers standing sentry along the world’s most heavily militarized border. He believed his action would get him back to the States and a short jail sentence. Instead he found himself in another sort of prison, where for forty years he suffered under one of the most brutal and repressive regimes the world has known. This fast-paced, harrowing tale, told plainly and simply by Jenkins (with journalist Jim Frederick), takes the reader behind the North Korean curtain and reveals the inner workings of its isolated society while offering a powerful testament to the human spirit.
Due in March 2008 (or April for the UK edition), and available now for pre-order at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. It’s already available in Japanese – you can read an account over at DPRK Studies or Japan Probe.
Next, Korea: The Past and the Present – the collected papers of the British Association for Korean Studies, is scheduled to be released early this year.
The themes of Korea past and Korea present were selected to give the editors and BAKS council the widest choice of options in terms of scholarship, subject-matter and interest. Among the Papers included are:
- James Huntley Grayson: ‘Reverse syncretism and the sacred area of Muak-tong: the accommodation of Korean folk religion to the religious forms of Buddhism’ (Vol. 3, 1992)
- J.E.Hoare: ‘The British community in Korea: the colonial period 1910–1942’ (Vol.7, 2000)
- Keith Howard: ‘Why should Korean shamans be women?’ (Vol.1, 1991)
- Yeonok Jang: ‘Reappraisal of the origins of p’ansori’ (Vol.7, 2000)
- Ian Nish: ‘John McLeavy Brown in Korea’ (Vol.2, 1992)
- Henrik Sorensen: ‘”Protecting the nation”: Korean Buddhism under the rule of Park Hung Hee, 1961–79’ (Vol.9, 2004)
- Jaehoon Yeon: ‘How different is Pyongyang speech from Seoul speech?’ (Vol.7, 2000)
Finally, if you are prepared to place your trust in a 2006 Hankyoreh article, March should see the publication of a collection of Magnum photographs of Korea (sample below – Lake Cheonji by Hiroji Kubota). If any readers in Korea can confirm publication details, please let me know.
- The third book in the Inspector O series by James Church is nearing completion. No publication date yet.
- Wandering Ghost, the fifth book in the George Sueño / Ernie Bascom series by Martin Limón, will hopefully be out in paperback in time to be stuffed into the suitcase for the summer holiday. The hardback is available now from amazon.co.uk and amazon.com