Here are some of the books we’re looking forward to in 2021. For the first time in one of these posts we’re flagging the indicative cost of the titles listed here. For me, I have a psychological barrier at around £30: a book has to be offering something pretty special for me to be prepared to fork out more than that. So I’m glad that the title I’m most looking forward to this year is priced at exactly that level: Hwang Sok-yong’s memoirs, translated by Anton Hur and Sora Kim-Russell.
A reminder that you can find a regularly updated list of upcoming fiction and non-fiction titles here, and a list of recently published titles that you might have missed here. Links in the text below take you to the book’s entry in the LKL Korea Book Database, where you will find publisher summaries and links to where you can (pre)order the titles. Oh, and you can find our post about 2021 literature and poetry titles here.
Memoirs and modern history
- Hwang Sok-yong’s memoir The Prisoner (tr Anton Hur, Sora Kim-Russell, expected from Verso in the summer – £30 hardback). “Hwang moves between his imprisonment and his life—as a boy in Pyongyang, as a young activist protesting South Korea’s military dictatorships, as a soldier in the Vietnam War, as a dissident writer—and in so doing, narrates the dramatic revolutions and transformations of one life and of Korean society during the twentieth century.” At 688 pages, this should see you through your summer break.
- In a similar vein, Shin Young-bok’s 20 Years 20 Days: Reflections from Prison (translator and price point not known) is due from Meredith Victory in the spring. According to the publisher, Shin is described by President Moon Jae-in as “the thinker I respect the most”. The title is “well-settled as a Korean classic,” and “still enjoys its status as a book of healing and insight, teaching and changing people through its inspiration and wisdom.”
- Song of Arirang: The Story of a Korean Rebel Revolutionary in China: the memoirs of Kim San / Jang Jirak as told to Nym Wales aka Helen Foster Snow are expected from Kaya in late March (paperback, price unknown). The Song of Arirang was originally published in 1941; this new edition also contains the writings (both literary and in essay form) of Kim San himself, translated into English for the first time by Dongyoun Hwang.
- A late entry – a book that came to our attention after going to press – is Interviews with North Korean Defectors – From Kim Shin-jo to Thae Yong-ho, by North Korean defector Lim Il, translated and annotated by Adam Zulawnik, due from Routledge in June (but at a prohibitive price point for a casual reader). Looks like a very interesting and broad range of interviewees, including propaganda artist Song Byeok. I wish that room had been found for an interview with pianist Kim Cheol-woong, but in compensation we have sohaegeum player Park Seong-jin.
Language and literature
- Language and Truth in North Korea by Sonia Ryang, due University of Hawai’i Press at the end of May. After her thoroughly enjoyable Reading North Korea: An Ethnological Inquiry (Harvard, 2012) I can’t wait for her follow-up. Available in paperback at under £30, and there also seems to be a free Kindle version. Cover image not available at the time of writing.
- Kinship Novels of Early Modern Korea by Ksenia Chizhova (Columbia UP, February). Available in paperback at under £30. “Shedding new light on Korean literary history and questions of Korea’s modernity, this book also offers a broader lens on the global rise of the novel.”
- Literature and Cultural Identity during the Korean War by Jerôme de Wit, due from Bloomsbury in April – though at £85 for the hardback, and no paperback advertised, this is one for you to persuade your library to buy. The publishers describe this title as “a nuanced and enlightening study which provides a base for a full exploration of the role culture in the formation of North and South Korean states”.
- The History of Modern Korean Fiction (1890-1945): Rachel Min Park translates Kim Young-min’s title for Lexington, out in January. Unfortunately there’s no paperback version, and with hardback prices starting at around £70, this is again one for the library to purchase.
Film, popular culture, food & drink
- Admirers of Kyung-hyun Kim’s previous titles, Virtual Hallyu and Remasculinizing Korean Cinema will will not hesitate to snap up his Hegemonic Mimicry: Korean Popular Culture of the Twenty-First Century, due from Duke UP in the Autumn at £87. This press in the past has brought out paperbacks at a lower price point so I shan’t be rushing to buy the hardback.
- The Korean Cinema Book, ed Nikki Lee and Julian Stringer, has been a number of years in the making, but seems to be coming to light in the summer from BFI, with a paperback version under £30.
- As far as I am aware, the following two books are the first in English to take a serious look at webtoons. South Korea’s Webtooniverse and the Digital Comic Revolution by Aegyung Shim and Brian Yecies is due from Rowman & Littlefield in April. No paperback, but there will be a sub-£30 ebook version if you can bear it. This title comes hot on the heels of a Routledge book which came out in December 2020: Hyesu Park’s Understanding Hallyu: The Korean Wave Through Literature, Webtoon, and Mukbang which is at a more affordable price point, but still no paperback.
- A very tempting title is Soju: A Global History, by Hyunhee Park, (Cambridge University Press, February) – except for the £75 price tag. The title looks back to the Mongol invasions for the rise of soju in Koryo Korea. Slightly off-topic, but if you’re after an interesting-looking and affordable history of an Asian drink, William Wayne Farris’s A Bowl for a Coin: A Commodity History of Japanese Tea comes out in paperback (£31) in April from University of Hawai’i Press. Try before you buy: there’s a free Kindle version. I’ve already downloaded it for a browse.
- The Encyclopedia of Daily Life: A Woman’s Guide to Living in Late-Chosŏn Korea – by a Lady Yi, translated, annotated, and with an introduction by Michael J. Pettid and Kil Cha, from University of Hawai’i in August. Described as “a treasure trove of information on how women of higher status in the late Chosŏn (1392–1910) ran their households and conducted their daily lives”. Sadly with the only physical book priced at £50 this one is an ebook (£18) or nothing. Probably nothing then. A shame, because this looks really worth a browse.
- Neo-Confucianism and Science in Korea: Humanity and Nature, 1706-1814 by Ro Sang-ho (Routledge, February) looks at “how globalization affected intellectual life in Korea before the 20th century”; but sadly the price for a physical book is eye-watering, and even the ebook is over £30.
- Redemption and Regret: Modernizing Korea in the Writings of James Scarth Gale, ed Daniel Pieper from Toronto University Press in February. Tempting as the title is, with no paperback version, and the ebook priced at $60, it probably won’t be finding its way into my collection, but I’d gladly browse a library copy.
- Empire and Righteous Nation: 600 Years of China-Korea Relations by Odd Arne Westad (Harvard, January). Full marks to Harvard for providing a hardback at a not much over £20.