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Booklist: notable titles from 2019

Here is a list of titles published in 2019 that we’ve been tracking and even hoping to read: literature in translation, Korea-related fiction and poetry in English, plus notable non-fiction titles.

Sorted by date of publication, most recent first.

BookCover image

Rediscovering Korean Cinema
Ed Sangjoon Lee
University of Michigan Press, 2019

From the publisher’s website South Korean cinema is a striking example of non-Western contemporary cinematic success. Thanks to the increasing numbers of moviegoers and domestic films produced, South Korea has become one of the world’s major film markets. In 2001, the South Korean film industry became the first in recent history to reclaim its domestic […] (Link to online store)

Butterfly Sleep
Kim Kyung-ju tr Jake Levine
Tupelo Press, 2019

From the publisher’s website: Kim Kyung Ju’s allegorical drama Butterfly Sleep refracts a critique of South Korea’s headlong development through a mixture of magic realism and absurdist dark humor set early in the Joseon dynasty. With lyricism and grace, Kim unfolds a lesson of consolation by confrontation, and finally reconciliation, with the ghosts of the […] (Link to online store)

Seven Samurai Swept Away in a River
Jung Young-moon tr Jung Yewon
Deep Vellum, 2019

A literary meandering into the mythology of place and what a novel can be, inspired by the author’s time spent at an artist residency in small-town Texas. In his inimitable, recursive, meditative style that reads like a comedic zen koan but contains universes, Seven Samurai Swept Away in a River recounts Korean cult writer’s Jung […] (Link to online store)

I Gave the Sun a Long Look (K-Poet 10)
Lee Young-kwang tr Daniel Parker, Ji YoungShil
Asia Publishers, 2019

From the Kyobo website via Google Translate: The first Korean-English poet’s gaze covering all of Korea’s leading poets Lee Young-gwang’s new poem book I Gave the Sun a Long Look The ‘K-Poet’ series is intended to be distributed to the domestic and foreign markets after extracting the essence of Korean poetry that you always want […] (Link to online store)

A Ghost Poet (K-Poet 09)
Kim Joong-il tr Jeon Seung-hee
Asia Publishers, 2019

From the Kyobo bookstore website via Papago translate: The first Korean-English translation of a Korean poet A new collection of poems by poet Kim Joong-il “K-Poet” series, which aims to select the essence of Korean poetry and translate it into English and serve it to domestic and foreign markets. It represents the only Korean-English translation […] (Link to online store)

The Novel in Transition: Gender and Literature in Early Colonial Korea
Jooyeon Rhee
Cornell East Asia Series, 2019

Having been marginalized from the literature-proper sphere of Confucian elite culture, the novel began to transform significantly at turn of the twentieth century in Korea. Selected novels in transformation that Jooyeon Rhee investigates in this book include both translated and creative historical novels, domestic novels, and crime novels, all of which were produced under the […] (Link to online store)

Jejueo: The Language of Korea’s Jeju Island
Changyong Yang, Sejung Yang, William O'Grady
University of Hawai'i Press, 2019

From the publisher’s website: Jeju Island, located about 30 miles southwest of the Korean mainland, is famous for its natural beauty, dolhaleubang (“stone grandfather”) statues, haenyeo (“sea women”) divers—and its language, which has only recently been recognized as distinct from Korean. This finding—still considered controversial—undermines the centuries-old belief that Korea has a single language within its borders and opens […] (Link to online store)

The Catcher in the Loft
Cheon Un-yeong tr Bruce Fulton, Ju-chan Fulton
Codhill Press, 2019

Inspired by the case of a torture specialist in 1980s South Korea who from 1988 to 2000 was a fugitive in his own house, The Catcher in the Loft (published in South Korea in 2011 as Saenggang) is in equal parts a portrait of a man coming to terms with his notorious past and a […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

Liking in Silence
Kim Sa-in tr Brother Anthony of Taizé, Susan Hwang
White Pine Press, 2019

From the publishers’ website: Kim Sa-in is a devotional poet who ably serves “all the unconsidered things in the world”–a cosmos flower, a turtle dove cooing near a firing range, the way a mourner offers a cup of wine to a widow. His eye for ordinary details that resonate in their new settings, his ability to […] (Link to online store)

The Shaman’s Wages: Trading in Ritual on Cheju Island
Kyoim Yun
University of Washington Press, 2019

From the publisher’s website: Breaking from previous scholarship on Korean shamanism, which focuses on mansin of mainland Korea, The Shaman’s Wages offers the first in-depth study of simbang, hereditary shamans on Cheju Island off the peninsula’s southwest coast. In this engaging ethnography enriched by extensive historical research, Kyoim Yun explores the prevalent and persistent ambivalence toward practitioners, whose services have […] (Link to online store)

The Power of Nunchi: The Korean Secret to Happiness and Success
Y Euny Hong
Penguin, 2019

From the publisher’s website: ‘A must-read for anyone interested in the art of intuitively knowing what others feel.’ Haemin Sunim, author of The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down and Love for Imperfect Things ‘A lovely book to have in your home and your lives.’ Chris Evans, Breakfast Show Nunchi (noon-chee): eye measure. The subtle art of gauging other […] (Link to online store)

Poems from Korea: From the Earliest Era to the Present
Ed Peter H Lee tr Peter H Lee
Routledge, 2019

From the publisher’s website: The Koreans, according to the Chinese chronicles, are ‘the people who enjoy singing and dancing’ and who regaled their gods with dance and song. Since then poetry has been an essential part of Korean life and has been regarded as the highest of the arts. In this first comprehensive anthology of […] (Link to online store)

An embroidery sampler (K-Poet 08)
Kim Jung-whan tr Kim Jung-whan
Asia Publishers, 2019

Text from the Kyobo bookstore and google translate: The first collection of poetry from Han-Young University, covering all of Korea’s leading poets Kim Jeong- hwan’s new poetry book An embroidery sampler The K-Poet series that draws the essence of Korean poetry that you always want to read at your bedside, translates it into English, and […] (Link to online store)

Evening of the Whale (K-Poet 07)
Chung Il Keun tr Daniel Parker, Ji YoungShil
Asia Publishers, 2019

Text from Kyobo bookstore and google translate: The first collection of poems from Han-Young University, covering all of Korea’s leading poets The K-Poet series that draws the essence of Korean poetry that you always want to read at your bedside, translates it into English, and distributes it to the domestic and international markets. The only […] (Link to online store)

I Met Loh Kiwan
Cho Hae-jin tr Lee Ji-eun
University of Hawai'i Press, 2019

This captivating short novel follows the journey of North Korean refugee Loh Kiwan to a place where he doesn’t speak the language or understand the customs. Loh’s story of hardship and determination is gradually revealed in flashbacks by the narrator, Kim, a writer for a South Korean TV show, who learned about Loh from a […] (Link to online store)

Keum Suk Gendry-Kim tr Janet Hong
Drawn + Quarterly, 2019

From the publisher’s website: This true story of a Korean “comfort woman” documents how the atrocity of war devastates women’s lives. Grass is a powerful anti-war graphic novel, offering up firsthand the life story of a Korean girl named Okseon Lee who was forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese Imperial Army during the second […] (Link to online store)

East Goes West
Younghill Kang
Penguin, 2019

From the publisher’s website: Foreword by Alexander Chee | Afterword by Sunyoung Lee | Notes by Sunyoung Lee Having fled Japanese-occupied Korea for the gleaming promise of the United States with nothing but four dollars and a suitcase full of Shakespeare to his name, the young, idealistic Chungpa Han arrives in a New York teeming […] (Link to online store)

The Red Years: Forbidden Poems from Inside North Korea
Bandi tr Heinz Insu Fenkl
Zed Books, 2019

From the publisher’s website: Though North Korea holds the attention of the world, it is still rare for us to hear North Korean voices, beyond those few who have escaped. Known only by his pen name, the poet and author ‘Bandi’ stands as one of the most distinctive and original dissident writers to emerge from […] (Link to online store)

Blood Sisters
Kim Yideum tr Lee Jiyoon
Deep Vellum, 2019

Blood Sisters tells the story of Jeong Yeoul, a young Korean college student in the 1980’s, when the memory of President Chun Doohwan’s violent suppression of student demonstrations against martial law was still fresh. Yideum captures with raw honesty the sense of dread felt by many Korean women during this time as Jeong struggles in a […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

Marilyn and Me
Lee Ji-min tr Kim Chi-young
Fourth Estate, 2019

Historical fiction, based on true events, about two women who seem the most unlikely to ever meet: Alice, a Korean war survivor and translator for the American forces in Seoul, and Marilyn Monroe, who is visiting Korea on a four-day USO tour. February 1954. Although the Korean War armistice was signed a year ago, most citizens of […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

Korean: A Comprehensive Grammar
Jaehoon Yeon, Lucien Brown
Routledge, 2019

From the publisher’s website: Korean: A Comprehensive Grammar is a reference to Korean grammar, and presents a thorough overview of the language, concentrating on the real patterns of use in modern Korean. The book moves from the alphabet and pronunciation through morphology and word classes to a detailed analysis of sentence structures and semantic features such […] (Link to online store)

The Nine Cloud Dream
Kim Man-jung tr Heinz Insu Fenkl
Penguin, 2019

A Buddhist journey reminscent of Dante’s Inferno exploring the illusions of human life, published here in the first new translation in forty years Often considered the greatest work of classic Korean fiction, The Nine Cloud Dream poses the question: will the life we dream of truly make us happy? A historical novel set in 9th-century […] (Link to online store)

Miracle on Cherry Hill
Hwang Sun-mi tr Kim Chi-young
Abacus, 2019

This is the story of a man named Kang Dae-su. His whole life is a miracle, rising from poverty to running a successful construction company. In his twilight years, Kang is diagnosed with a brain tumour. He returns to his childhood home of Cherry Hill. He acquires a crumbling old house in which to retreat […] (Link to online store)

A Cruelty Special to Our Species
Emily Jungmin Yoon
Ecco Books, 2019

From the publisher’s website: A piercing debut collection of poems exploring gender, race, and violence from a sensational new talent In her arresting collection, urgently relevant for our times, poet Emily Jungmin Yoon confronts the histories of sexual violence against women, focusing in particular on Korean so-called “comfort women,” women who were forced into sexual labor in […] (Link to online store)

Han Kang tr Deborah Smith
Strangers Press, 2019

Inah has been having nightmares. Nightmares of fish bones, fractals, and a marriage that ended under some unnamed violence. Walking the night streets with a man she has known for years, whose feelings for her are bound up with his intense longing to live as a woman, the fragile bond of their relationship threatens to […] (Link to online store)

Milena, Milena, Ecstatic
Bae Suah tr Deborah Smith
Strangers Press, 2019

Yun’s meticulously ordered life of reading books and drinking coffee receives a jolt when a mysterious cultural foundation unexpectedly agrees to fund his film proposal: a blend of fiction and documentary, a tone-poem constructed around a lyrical narrative, set around Scythian graves in the High Altai mountains. Desperate to be taken on as his assistant, […] (Link to online store)

Kong’s Garden (Yeoyu)
Hwang Jungeun tr Jeon Seung-hee
Strangers Press, 2019

Imagine Cormac McCarthy writing about the boring lives of clerks and you’ll anticipate something of the dystopic flavour of this gripping but socially bleak short story from Hwang. In a Korean world in which education has historically meant everything, the narrator realizes both that this is not true (through her partner in an essentially loveless […] (Link to online store)

Left’s Right, Right’s Left
Han Yujoo tr Janet Hong
Strangers Press, 2019

The story takes place on a stairwell, all in about a minute’s time, while the narrator’s partner seizes her by the hair. The narrator had gotten caught, after running out of the apartment to try to escape assault. While she tries desperately to avoid falling down the stairs, she has a series of flashbacks about […] (Link to online store)

Five Preludes and a Fugue
Cheon Hee-rahn tr Emily Yae Won
Strangers Press, 2019

A young woman delves into the circumstances of her mother’s death ahead of her own marriage, interrogating a woman who witnessed her mother’s death and would later come to play a crucial role in her life. An exploration of the human (in)capacity for (self-)deception and knowledge, the story offers a nuanced portrait of contemporary (Korean) […] (Link to online store)

Old Wrestler
Jeon Sung-tae tr Sora Kim-Russell
Strangers Press, 2019

A retired wrestler struggles with amnesia and anxiety after he is invited to return to his home town for an event. Back in once-familiar surroundings, he wrestles to make sense of things as he is confronted by faces, scenes and smells recalled from a celebrated past. (Link to online store)

Kang Hwa-gil tr Mattho Mandersloot
Strangers Press, 2019

Set in a small rural village, seemingly everyday events take on a macabre meaning. We follow Kim Miyoung, a relatively new villager and the local primary school teacher, as she is slowly overcome by anxiety, with her daughter at the vulnerable young age of three, a difficult group of schoolboys under her wing and her […] (Link to online store)

Kim Soom tr Emily Yae Won
Strangers Press, 2019

A poet reflects on the lives of the different generations of women around her as she contemplates her own divorce from a socially-engaged photographer; her feelings are complicated by the ethics of public/private, art/life divisions, as well as the country’s contemporary history. The story reveals the raw complexity of gender dynamics in a society still […] (Link to online store)

The Great Successor
Anna Fifield
John Murray, 2019

From the publisher’s website: The Great Successor is an irreverent yet insightful quest to understand the life of Kim Jong Un, one of the world’s most secretive dictators. Kim’s life is swathed in myth and propaganda, from the plainly silly–he supposedly ate so much Swiss cheese that his ankles gave way–to the grimly bloody stories of […] (Link to online store)

Revisiting Minjung: New Perspectives on the Cultural History of 1980s South Korea
Ed Sunyoung Park
University of Michigan Press, 2019

From the publisher’s website: An epoch-marking alliance of laborers, students, dissident intellectuals, and ordinary citizens was at the heart of South Korea’s transformation from a dictatorship into a vibrant democracy during the 1980s. Collectively known as the minjung (“the people”), these agents of Korean democratization historically carved out an expanded role for civil society in the country’s […] (Link to online store)

Bari’s Love Song
Kang Eun-gyo tr Chung Eun-gwi
Parlor Press, 2019

From the back cover: In her early career, Kang Eun-Gyo marked nihilism as the departure of her poetic imagination. In response to the turmoil of the world and modern Korean history full of violence and violations of human rights, the poet struggled to build her poetry in a house of nothingness. With Bari’s Love Song, […] (Link to online store)

BTS, Art Revolution
Lee Jiyoung tr Chae Myungji, Lee Shinwoo, Stella Kim, Won Jiye
parrhesia, 2019

Publisher description: Recently, a seven-member boy band from Korea called BTS has captivated the globe, forming the most massive and powerful fandom in history. The BTS phenomenon reaches far beyond the typical achievements of pop stars: as Jiyoung Lee illustrates, the changes that have been shown by BTS and their fandom ARMY are not confined […] (Link to online store)

Chang-mo (K-Fiction 025)
Woo Da-young tr Stella Kim
Asia Publishers, 2019

As this is an Asia Publishers title, it’s pretty difficult to obtain outside of Korea. Text from the listing on Kyobo website, fed through the Papago translation engine: An inner crevice, a subtle look in between In April 2019, Woo Da-young’s “Changmo” was published as the 25th work of K-fiction. Woo Da-young began her work […] (Link to online store)

Flowers of Mold and Other Stories
Ha Seong-nan tr Janet Hong
Open Letter, 2019

On the surface, Ha Seong-Nan’s stories seem pleasant enough, yet there’s always something disturbing just below the surface, ready to permanently disrupt the characters’ lives. A woman meets her next-door neighbour and loans her a spatula, then starts suffering horrific gaps in her memory. A security guard falls in love with a magician/petty thief, and […] (Link to online store)

Have You Been Feeling Blue These Days?
Kim Eon-hee tr Kim Eunsong, Kim Sung-gi
Noemi Press, 2019

From the publisher’s website: Kim Eon Hee was born in 1953 in Jinju, Gyeongsang Province. She is the author of five volumes of poetry. Her first collection Modern Ars Poetica was published in 1989. Followed by, Trunk, The Girl who Sleeps Under a Withering Cherry Tree, Unexpected Response, and her latest from 2016 The Man I Miss. First published in […] (Link to online store)

Readymade Bodhisattva
Ed Sunyoung Park and Sang Joon Park tr Adrian Thieret, Dagmar van Engen, Esther Song, Eunhae Jo, Gord Sellar, Haerin Shin, Jenny Wang Medina, Jihyun Park, Kimberly Chung, Kyunghee Eo, Melissa Mei-lin Chan, Randi Vaughan, Sora Kim-Russell, Sunyoung Park, Travis Workamn
Kaya, 2019

Readymade Bodhisattva: The Kaya Anthology of South Korean Science Fiction presents the first book-length English-language translation of science and speculative fiction from South Korea, bringing together 13 classic and contemporary stories from the 1960s through the 2010s. From the reimagining of an Asimovian robot inside the walls of a Buddhist temple and a postapocalyptic showdown […] (Link to online store)

Diary of a Murderer, and other stories
Kim Young-ha tr Krys Lee
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019

Kim Byeongsu is losing his mind. Quite literally. He keeps forgetting the little things in life, like basic words, whether or not he has a dog, the last time he killed someone… In his prime, Byeongsu was one of the best murderers around, spending years obsessively trying to perfect his technique, only killing in the […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

The Rabbit’s Tale 2020
Park Duk-kyu tr Brother Anthony of Taizé
Homa + Sekey, 2019

The Korean classical novel Rabbit’s Tale (kor. Toggijeon) tells the story of a Dragon King who falls ill, and learns that only the special properties found in a rabbit’s liver can make him well again. He sends a terrapin ashore to find the rabbit and trick him into coming to the Dragon Palace. The rabbit […] (Link to online store)

King Chŏngjo, an Enlightened Despot in Early Modern Korea
Christopher Lovins
SUNY, 2019

Publisher description: The first detailed analysis in English of monarchy and governance in Korea during King Chŏngjo’s reign. Were the countries of Europe the only ones that were “early modern”? Was Asia’s early modernity cut short by colonialism? Scholars examining early modern Eurasia have not yet fully explored the relationships between absolute rule and political […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

Korea’s Premier Collection of Classical Literature: Selections from Sŏ Kŏjŏng’s Tongmunsŏn
Ed Sŏ Kŏjŏng, James B Lewis, Xin Wei tr James B Lewis, Xin Wei
University of Hawai'i Press, 2019

From the publisher’s website: This is the first book in English to offer an extensive introduction to the Tongmunsŏn (Selections of Refined Literature of Korea)—the largest and most important Korean literary collection created prior to the twentieth century—as well as translations of essays from key chapters. The Tongmunsŏn was compiled in 1478 by Sŏ Kŏjŏng […] (Link to online store)

Kim Yideum tr Hedgie Choi, Jake Levine, Soeun Seo
Action Books, 2019

Publisher description: Next to the burning police station I want to tear out my womb and kick it to heaven. Kim Yideum’s second collection to appear in English continues to evoke the grotesqueries of her first work, while simultaneously delving further into the materiality of everyday life. Through an overflowing that echoes fellow feminist poet […] (Link to online store)

A Drink of Red Mirror
Kim Hyesoon tr Jiwon Shin, Lauren Albin, Sue Hyon Bae
Action Books, 2019

Publisher description: A hole walked in while I was removing my makeup I sat down on the couch and took off my pantyhose I looked at the hole A landmark feminist poet and critic in her native South Korea, Kim Hyesoon’s surreal, dagger-sharp poetry has spread from hemisphere to hemisphere in the past ten years, […] (Link to online store)

What Makes a City
Park Seongwon tr Andrew James Keast, Chang Chung-hwa
White Pine Press, 2019

What Makes a City? provides the reader with an intelligent perspective on the strange culture of our times and a series of adventures through which we explore universal human problems. Family, education, the media, popular culture, technology, alienation, financial power or the lack thereof . . . These are among the most prominent components of […] (Link to online store)

Vicious Circuits: Korea’s IMF Cinema and the End of the American Century
Joseph Jonghyun Jeon
Stanford University Press, 2019

Publisher description: In December of 1997, the International Monetary Fund announced the largest bailout package in its history, aimed at stabilizing the South Korean economy in response to a credit and currency crisis of the same year. Vicious Circuits examines what it terms “Korea’s IMF Cinema,” the decade of cinema following that crisis, in order to think […] (Link to online store)

Beyond Death: the politics of suicide and martyrdom in Korea
Ed Charles R. Kim, Jungwon Kim, Hwasook B. Nam and Serk-Bae Suh tr Sixiang Wang, Youngju Ryu
University of Washington Press, 2019

From the publisher’s website: Suicide and martyrdom are closely intertwined with Korean social and political processes. In this first book-length study of the evolving ideals of honorable death and martyrdom from the Chosŏn Dynasty (1392–1910) to contemporary South Korea, interdisciplinary essays explore the changing ways in which Korean historical agents have considered what constitutes a […] (Link to online store)

Tokyo Ueno Station
Yu Miri tr Morgan Giles
Tilted Axis, 2019

From the publisher’s website: Finalist, the 2020 National Book Awards Winner, TA First Translation Prize Born in Fukushima in 1933, the same year as the Emperor, Kazu’s life is tied by a series of coincidences to Japan’s Imperial family and to one particular spot in Tokyo; the park near Ueno Station – the same place […] (Link to online store)

The Plotters
Kim Un-su tr Sora Kim-Russell
Fourth Estate, 2019

Plotters are just pawns like us. A request comes in and they draw up the plans. There’s someone above them who tells them what to do. And above that person is another plotter telling them what to do. You think that if you go up there with a knife and stab the person at the […] (Link to online store) LKL Review

Against Healing: Nine Korean Poets
Ed Emily Jungmin Yoon tr Emily Jungmin Yoon
Tilted Axis, 2019

From the publisher’s website: Translating Feminisms showcases intimate collaborations and conversations between some of Asia’s most exciting women writers and emerging-star translators: contemporary poetry of labour and language, alongside essays exploring how, where and by whom feminist writing and women’s bodies are translated. Against Healing showcases poems by Kim Hyesoon, Choi Young-Mi, Kim Seon-U, Kim […] (Link to online store)

How to Break Up Like a Winner (K-Fiction 024)
Baek Young-ok tr Jamie Chang, Shin Hye-bin
Asia Publishers, 2019

Verbatim from Emotions of Love b Farewell farewell, story of people who can not break apart b February 2019, K-fiction is the twenty-fourth piece, Baek Young-oks ” Baek Young-ok is a novelist, “Cat Shanti,” who won the Literary Neighborhood New Artist Award and started his work. In 2008, he won the 4th World Literature […] (Link to online store)

Run Away (K-Fiction 023)
Cho Nam-joo tr Miseli Jeon
Asia Publishers, 2019

Good luck in tracking this book down The only English language site that seems to list it at present is Goodreads. But a little more googling highlights a Korean store that sells it: You would have thought, with all the buzz about Kim Ji-young Born 1982, that Asia Publishers would try a bit harder […]

Silvery World and Other Stories
Ed Michael J Pettid tr Brother Anthony of Taizé, Eugene Larsen-Hallock, Jamie Chang, Sora Kim-Russell
Cornell East Asia Series, 2019

From the publisher’s website: This anthology is an exciting new collection of Korean fiction in translation from the early years of the twentieth century that demonstrate the political and ideological divides that Koreans experienced during this time. Contains the following stories: Cho Myŏng-hŭi : Naktong River tr Bro. Anthony of Taize Ch’oe Chansik: The Shore […] (Link to online store)

Love for Imperfect Things: How to Accept Yourself in a World Striving for Perfection
Haemin Sunim tr Deborah Smith
Penguin, 2019

From the publisher’s website: From the author of the phenomenal multi-million copy bestseller The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down “Hearing the words ‘be good to yourself first, then to others’ was like being struck by lightning.” Many of us respond to the pressures of life by turning inwards and ignoring problems, sometimes […] (Link to online store)