Book review: Yi In-hwa’s Everlasting Empire

Some time ago I watched Park Chong-wan’s 1995 historical mystery movie Eternal Empire on DVD, having purchased it on the strength of its inclusion in Darcy Paquet’s list of top films from the 1990s. I must have been tired when I watched it: I simply have no recollection of what I thought of it, though […]

A look back at our 2020 reading diary

Like many readers, we started the year with good intention of blitzing through the pile of new titles that were promised for the coming months, as well as making inroads into the backlog. And we genuinely got off to a good start with a string of fun K-thrillers, some of them new, some not: The […]

Review: City of Ash and Red

City of Ash and Red is a novel for 2020, even though it was originally published in 2010. Inspired no doubt in part by the SARS outbreak of 2002-3, Pyun Hye-young imagines a world where a virus has the potential to shut down whole countries, in which visitors are tested for infection on arrival at […]

Review: Na Man’gap – the Diary of 1636

Na Man’gap’s Diary of 1636, as George Kallander explains in his informative introduction, is the longest known private account of the second Manchu invasion of Korea. Na (1592 – 1642) was a senior scholar-official who was with the King and court inside Namhansanseong – he was in charge of military rations – throughout the siege […]

Review: Pyun Hye-young – The Law of Lines

Life was much deeper than he could ever imagine. It was impossible to tell just how far you could sink1 Two apparent suicides in different parts of the country kick-start two separate story-lines which turn out to be interlinked. Se-oh is the daughter of one of the deceased – a man who had fallen into […]

Brief review: Kim Sagwa – b, Book, and Me

To answer the obvious question that you’re going to be asked when trying to order this item at your local bookstore, “b” and “Book” are the names of two characters in the novel. We’re not told about how b came by her name, but Book is so called because he spends all his time reading, primarily […]

Book review: Paek Nam Nyong – Friend

When faced with a translation of a book written by a North Korean, based on past experiences you might expect material that’s hostile to the regime. Texts that have been rendered into English tend to be either defector testimonies or an occasional collection of short stories or poems by a dissident writer that have apparently […]

Book review: Jeong You-jeong – Seven Years of Darkness

Jeong You-jeong: Seven Years of Darkness Translated by Kim Chi-young Penguin / Little, Brown 2020 Originally published as 7년의 밤, EunHaeng NaMu Publishing Co, Seoul 2011 It felt like a long wait. We’d seen the movie adaptation a few years ago (Choo Chang-min’s Seven Years of Night, which screened at the London Korean Film Festival […]

Mi-ae Seo: The Only Child

Seo Miae’s The Only Child is the latest thriller to come out of Korea, following on the heels of Jeong You-jeong’s Good Son and Kim Un-su’s The Plotters. Seo debuted in 1994 with the short story 30 Ways to Kill Your Husband and won the GrandPrize for Korean detective fiction with the Dolls Garden. She […]

Book review: Christopher Lovins on King Chŏngjo

Thus far this year I’ve been focusing on literature in translation. As I wait for the next major wave of publications to hit the shops, I’ve turned my attention to non-fiction. And the first title I reached for was Christopher Lovins’s King Chŏngjo: An Enlightened Despot in Early Modern Korea, which came out in paperback […]

Review: Kim Yideum – Blood Sisters

Kim Yideum: Blood Sisters Translated by Jiyoon Lee Deep Vellum, 2019, 202pp Originally published as 블러드 시스터즈 by Munhakdongne, 2011 I seem to be on a roll with translated fiction this year. Two disappointments (Marilyn and Me and Kim Jiyoung), but now seven that are highly recommendable. I picked this novel off the reading pile […]

Book review: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Cho Nam-joo: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 Translated by Jamie Chang Scribner, 2020, 163pp Originally published as 82년생 김지영, Minumsa, 2016. Kim Jiyoung, as the blurb on the back cover of this translated novel tells us, is every woman. Her given name is unremarkable, familiar, and of course her family name is the most common in […]

Book review: Jeon Sungtae – Wolves

Jeon Sungtae: Wolves Translated by Sora Kim-Russell White Pine Press, 2017, 196pp Originally published as 늑대, Changbi Publishers, 2009 Jeon Sungtae’s Wolves takes us to another world – the world of Mongolia in the early years of this century, a decade after the adoption of capitalism. The country is modernising rapidly, but out on the […]