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Booklist: Memoirs

Partial list of memoirs, autobiographies, some classic travelogues. All sorts of miscellaneous and interesting stuff here.

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The Encyclopedia of Daily Life: A Woman’s Guide to Living in Late-Chosŏn Korea
Lady Yi tr Kil Cha, Michael J Pettid
University of Hawai'i Press, 2021

From the publisher’s website: This volume is a fully annotated translation of an early nineteenth-century encyclopedia, the Kyuhap ch’ongsŏ (The Encyclopedia of Daily Life). Written by Lady Yi (1759-1824) as a household management aid for her daughters and daughters-in-law, the work is a treasure trove of information on how women of higher status in the […] (Link to online store)

The Prisoner
Hwang Sok-yong tr Anton Hur, Sora Kim-Russell
Verso, 2021

From the publisher’s website: A sweeping account of imprisonment—in time, in language, and in a divided country—from Korea’s most acclaimed novelist In 1993, writer and democracy activist Hwang Sok-yong was sentenced to five years in the Seoul Detention Center. Hwang’s imprisonment forced him to consider the many prisons to which he was subject—of thought, of […] (Link to online store)

Interviews with North Korean Defectors: From Kim Shin-jo to Thae Yong-ho
Lim Il tr Adam Zulawnik
Routledge, 2021

From the publisher’s website: Originally compiled and written by North Korean defector and author Lim Il, this English-language edition, thoroughly annotated by Dr. Adam Zulawnik, is a fascinating collection of thirty-four interviews with highly prominent North Korean defectors residing in South Korea, ranging from religious figures, to artists, politicians, North Korea experts, and even divers […] (Link to online store)

20 Years 20 Days: Reflections from Prison
Shin Young-bok
Meredith Victory, 2021

Exact publication date not known. Visit the publisher’s website for up-to-date info Reflections from Prison is a collection of  letters and essays from renowned Korean thinker Shin Young-Bok written during his 20 years as a political prisoner under the military government. ​The letters range from post cards to tiny characters squeezed onto his Army Prison daily […]

Song of Arirang: The Story of a Korean Rebel Revolutionary in China
Kim San, Nym Wales tr Dongyoun Hwang
Kaya, 2021

From the publisher’s website: Song of Arirang tells the true story of Korean revolutionary Kim San (Jang Jirak), who left colonized Korea as a teenager to fight against Japanese imperialism and fought alongside Mao’s Red Army during the Chinese Revolution. First published in 1941, this remarkably intimate memoir (as told to the American journalist Nym […] (Link to online store)

The Diary of 1636: The Second Manchu Invasion of Korea
Na Man-gap tr George Kallander
Columbia University Press, 2020

Publisher description: Early in the seventeenth century, Northeast Asian politics hung in a delicate balance among the Chosŏn dynasty in Korea, the Ming in China, and the Manchu. When a Chosŏn faction realigned Korea with the Ming, the Manchu attacked in 1627 and again a decade later, shattering the Chosŏn-Ming alliance and forcing Korea to […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

The Magical Language of Others: A Memoir
Koh Eunji (E.J.)
Tin House, 2020

From the publisher’s website: The Magical Language of Others is a powerful and aching love story in letters, from mother to daughter. After living in America for over a decade, Eun Ji Koh’s parents return to South Korea for work, leaving fifteen-year-old Eun Ji and her brother behind in California. Overnight, Eun Ji finds herself abandoned […] (Link to online store)

See You Again in Pyongyang: A Journey into Kim Jong Un’s North Korea
Travis Jeppesen
Hachette Books, 2018

From ballistic missile tests to stranger-than-fiction stories of purges and assassinations, news from North Korea never fails to dominate the global headlines. But what is life there actually like? In See You Again in Pyongyang, Jeppesen culls from his experiences living, traveling, and studying in North Korea to create a multi-faceted portrait of the country […] (Link to online store)

Not My White Savior: A Memoir in Poems
Julayne Lee
Rare Bird Books, 2018

A provocative and furious book about race, culture, identity and what it means to be an inter-country adoptee in America Julayne Lee was born in South Korea to a mother she never knew. When she was an infant, she was adopted by a white Christian family in Minnesota, where she was sent to grow up. Not […] (Link to online store)

Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung
Min Kym
Viking, 2017

Publisher description: ‘All my life my Stradivarius had been waiting for me, as I had been waiting for her . . .’ At 7 years old Min Kym was a prodigy, the youngest ever pupil at the Purcell School of Music. At 11 she won her first international prize. She worked with many violins, waiting […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

North Korean Writers in Exile PEN Literature (VOLUME Book 4)
Ed North Korean Writers in Exile PEN Center tr David Carruth, Elizabeth Black, Gary Rector, Martin Bax, Neil Armstrong, Seongbak Jamie Jin
PEN Center, 2017

North Korean Writers in Exile PEN Center is the 144th member of PEN International. Since defecting from North Korea because of their opposition to the dynastic dictatorship, the members of the center have been creating literature that depicts the harsh reality of North Korea and engaging in various activities to improve conditions there. The single […] (Link to online store)

Classical Writings of Korean Women
Kim Keum-won, Trad / anon tr Kyung-Nyun Kim Richards, Steffen F Richards
LTI Korea, 2016

This work is a collection of essays travelogues written by women during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). The work ranges from a eulogy for a broken needle to a travelogue describing various trips to scenic spots on the Korean peninsula, including to the Keum-Gang Mountains. Now available in English, this collection gives us a sampler of […] (Link to eBook / PDF / online text)

Dear Leader
Jang Jin-sung tr Shirley Lee
Penguin, 2014

Publisher description: Dear Leader contains astonishing new insights about North Korea which could only be revealed by someone working high up in the regime. It is also the gripping story of how a member of the inner circle of this enigmatic country became its most courageous, outspoken critic. Jang Jin-sung held one of the most senior […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

The Memoirs of Hun Pong: The Pendulous Life of a Korean Man Who Served Both Sides of a Divided Nation During the Korean War
Park Yongjae tr Park Hanjun
Homa + Sekey, 2010

From the publisher’s website: This is a true story of a Japanese-born Korean man who struggled for survival during the Korean War. It is also an inspiring book about human yearning for survival in the most miserable circumstances. Born in Japan, Hun Pong returned to his fatherland Korea after it became independent from Japan and […] (Link to online store)

Jehol Diary
Pak Chiwon tr Yang Hi Choe-Wall
Global Oriental, 2010

Publisher description: This is the first translation into English of the eighteenth-century Korean masterpiece entitled Yŏrha ilgi (‘The Jehol Diary’) by Pak Chiwŏn (1737-1805). The original text was written in classical Chinese and is a notoriously difficult work to translate. Pak Chiwŏn diarises the experiences of his remarkable overland journey on horseback from the northern border […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

Eastern Sentiments
Yi Tae-jun tr Janet Poole
Columbia University Press, 2009

The Confucian gentleman scholars of the Choson dynasty (1392-1910) often published short anecdotes exemplifying their values and aesthetic concerns. In modern Seoul one scholar in particular would excel at adapting this style to a contemporary readership: Yi T’aejun. Yi T’aejun was a prolific and influential writer of colonial Korea and an acknowledged master of the […] (Link to online store)

Who Ate Up All the Shinga?
Park Wan-suh tr Stephen Epstein, Yu Young-nan
Columbia University Press, 2009

Park Wan-suh is a best-selling and award-winning writer whose work has been widely translated and published throughout the world. Who Ate Up All the Shinga? is an extraordinary account of her experiences growing up during the Japanese occupation of Korea and the Korean War, a time of great oppression, deprivation, and social and political instability. […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

My husband the poet
Mok Sun-ok tr Brother Anthony of Taizé
Seoul Selection, 2006

“wonderful translation . . . It’s the best book of prose I’ve read from Korea. nothing like it, nothing close.” (Professor David McCann, Harvard University) A deeply personal account of life as a poet’s wife is now available in English. Mok Sun-ok, poet Chon Sang-pyong’s wife of over 20 years, writes about her years with […] (Link to online store)

Daughters of the Bear: An Anthology of Korean Women’s Stories
Ed Maite Diez and Jennifer Mathews tr Brother Anthony of Taizé, Kenneth Wells, Young-Oak Wells
University Press of America, 2004

Daughters of the Bear is an anthology of non-fiction by 53 Korean women such as a shopkeeper in Itaewon, a doctor in Apkujong, a musician in Myong-Dong, a housewife in Chamshil, and a student at Ewha Womans University. Shiver with a merchant as she recollects escaping with her sisters and mother across the 38th Parallel […] (Link to online store)

Surfacing Sadness: A Centennial of Korean-American Literature 1903-2003
Ed Yearn Hong Choi, Haeng Ja Kim
Homa + Sekey, 2003

This book is published to commemorate the centennial of the first landing of Korean immigrants in America in 1903. An anthology of poems, essays and short stories by thirty-seven Korean-American writers, Surfacing Sadness is the first serious effort to bring together the Korean-American literary experiences to join mainstream American literature. The book primarily contains translations […] (Link to online store)

The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong
Hong Hyegyong, Jahyun Kim Haboush tr Jahyun Kim Haboush
University of California Press, 1996

Lady Hyegyong’s memoirs, which recount the chilling murder of her husband by his father, form one of the best known and most popular classics of Korean literature. From 1795 until 1805 Lady Hyegyong composed this masterpiece, depicting a court life Shakespearean in its pathos, drama, and grandeur. Presented in its social, cultural, and historical contexts, […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

Hamel’s Journal And A Description Of The Kingdom Of Korea 1653-1666
Hendrik Hamel tr Br Jean-Paul Buys
RASKB, 1994

Publisher’s description: The first Western account of Korea is the story of a group of sailors shipwrecked on Cheju-do. Some thirteen years later, after escaping to Japan, Hamel gave the outside world a firsthand description of Korea, an almost unknown country until then. Dr. Jean-Paul, who is Dutch, has made the first translation based on […] (Link to online store)

The Zen Monastic Experience: Buddhist Practice in Contemporary Korea
Robert E Buswell Jr
Princeton University Press, 1992

Publisher description: Robert Buswell, a Buddhist scholar who spent five years as a Zen monk in Korea, draws on personal experience in this insightful account of day-to-day Zen monastic practice. In discussing the activities of the postulants, the meditation monks, the teachers and administrators, and the support monks of the monastery of Songgwang-sa, Buswell reveals […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

So Far from the Bamboo Grove
Yoko Kawashima Watkins
Harper Collins, 1986

From the back cover: In the final days of World War II, Koreans were determined to take back control of their country from the Japanese and end the suffering caused by the Japanese occupation. As an eleven-year-old girl living with her Japanese family in northern Korea, Yoko is suddenly fleeing for her life with her […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

Nanjung Ilgi: war diary of admiral Yi Sun-sin
Yi Sun-sin tr Ha Tae-Hung
Yonsei University Press, 1977

The text of Korea’s 76th national treasure, listed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World registry. Second-hand copies are occasionally available, for a price (eg, at the time of writing Amazon has a copy available at over £1,000); and you can find it in specialist libraries. LTI Korea advertise the title as being available to purchase […] (Link to online store)