Book Reviews

Mary Lynn Bracht: White Chrysanthemum Penguin Random House 2018, 320pp White Chrysanthemum, the debut novel from Mary Lynn Bracht, tells the story of two sisters, brought up on Jeju Island, who were tragically separated in the last years of the Second World War. The elder sister, Hana, is abducted into sexual slavery by a Japanese […]

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Book review: Pyun Hye-young – Evening Proposal

by Philip Gowman 9 July 2018
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Pyun Hye-young: Evening Proposal Translated by Youngsuk Park and Gloria Cosgrove Smith Originally published as 저녁의 구애, Moonji Publishing, 2011 After the somewhat gory content of Pyun’s story Corpses – published in the Waxen Wings anthology – in which a woman’s body parts keep appearing, it was with some nervousness that I started reading Pyun’s An […]

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Brief review: Jeong You-jeong – The Good Son

by Philip Gowman 14 June 2018
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Jeong You-jeong: The Good Son Translated by Kim Chi-young Little, Brown Book Group, 2018, 322pp Originally published as 종의 기원, Eunhaengnamu, 2016 A Good Son is one of the books being hailed as the new Scandi Noir, while Amazon is billing it as “The bestselling Korean thriller of the year” – though in a Korean genre that […]

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Book review: Shin Kyung-sook – The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness

by Philip Gowman 16 May 2018
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Shin Kyung-sook: The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness Translated by Jung Ha-yun Pegasus Book, New York, 2015, 369pp Originally published as 외딴방, Munhakdongne, 1995 When reading Ahn Jung-hyo’s White Badge, I found myself wondering why, despite what I thought was my general antipathy to novels with listless central characters who can’t seem to find their way […]

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Book review: Lee Yil – Dynamics of Expansion and Reduction

by Philip Gowman 25 April 2018
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Lee Yil: Dynamics of Expansion and Reduction Selected Writings on Korean Contemporary Art, 1970 – 1996 Initial draft translations: Chung Yeon-shim, Park Eun-ah, Park Sung-ji Final translations: Paul O’Kane, Song Bada Published by AICA (International Association of Art Critics) / Les Presses du Réel, Dijon, France, 2018, 212pp How often do you read the learned […]

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Book Review: Ahn Jung-hyo – White Badge

by Philip Gowman 20 April 2018
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Ahn Jung-hyo: White Badge Soho Press, NY, 1989, 337pp Originally published as 하얀전쟁, 1983 Translated by the author If I saw Jeong Ji-young’s White Badge (1992) when it screened in London eight years ago, I do not remember it. I cannot imagine having a similar lapse of memory concerning Ahn Jung-hyo’s Vietnam war novel on […]

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Book review: Yi Kwang-su — The Soil

by Philip Gowman 26 March 2018
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Yi Kwang-su: The Soil Translated by Hwang Sun-ae and Horace Jeffrey Hodges Dalkey Archive, 2013, 512pp Originally published as 흙, 1932-3 Yi Kwang-su’s The Soil, at over 500 pages long, is not a book that immediately entices you to read it. But with a screening of Kim Ki-young’s adaptation of the novel coming up shortly […]

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The Kim Aeran essay contest: so far, so good

by Philip Gowman 14 January 2018
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I struggled with previous KLTI Essay Contests. With There a Petal Silently Falls, having read it three times, I still couldn’t find an angle into it, and although I wrote an essay it was a pretty uninspired offering. With Who Ate Up all the Shinga, I probably enjoyed the book more, but again couldn’t really connect […]

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A look back at some of the books of 2017

by Philip Gowman 31 December 2017
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This year, I haven’t even come close to keeping up with the volume of newly-published literature in translation, let alone the plethora of new non-fiction. Perhaps to balance my feelings of guilt at falling behind the pace of new publications, I’ve tried to make inroads into my guilt pile in respect of previous years – […]

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Book review: Frontier Contact Between Chosŏn Korea and Tokugawa Japan

by Philip Gowman 18 November 2017
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James B. Lewis: Frontier Contact Between Chosŏn Korea and Tokugawa Japan Routledge, 2003, 340pp What a relief to return to some non-fiction. And although at LKL we are wholly unqualified to review academic works, we don’t mind saying why we it is that we like a particular book. Frontier Contact paints a fascinating picture of […]

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On reading Han Kang’s White Book by the pool

by Philip Gowman 17 November 2017
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In general, I tend not to read much literary fiction. If I’m reading stuff which is unrelated to Korea, it’s likely to be either non-fiction or easy reading – a detective story or something reasonably lightweight. When it comes to Korea-related reading, until relatively recently the balance has again been in favour of non-fiction. But […]

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Book review: Han Yujoo – The Impossible Fairy Tale

by Philip Gowman 13 November 2017
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Han Yujoo: The Impossible Fairy Tale translated by Janet Hong Graywolf Press, MN, USA 192pp / Tilted Axis Press, UK 352pp / 2017 Originally published as 불가능한 동화 (pub 문학과지성사, 2013) Sometimes, I like having my brain stretched when reading a book: something to get stuck into, to make me think. But there are limits. I […]

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Pachinko featured in New York Times

by Philip Gowman 12 November 2017
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There’s a nice feature on Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko in last weekend’s New York Times. I enjoyed the book myself though never got around to writing a review. It’s a very different work from her first novel, Free Food for Millionaires, which I described as a combination of Sex and the City and Wall Street, and […]

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An evening with Michael Breen and The New Koreans

by Philip Gowman 13 June 2017
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When going to a book talk, it is all too common to find that the moderator has little knowledge of the book or its subject matter, and asks the author embarrassingly shallow questions leaving the audience and author short-changed. No such risks last night at the KCC, where the British Korean Society’s Chris Hollands conversed […]

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Book review: Waxen Wings

by Philip Gowman 4 May 2017
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Waxen Wings: The ACTA Koreana Anthology of Short Fiction from Korea Edited by Bruce Fulton Koryo Press, 2011, 238pp There are plenty of anthologies of Korean translated fiction available, and many of them are edited and / or translated by Bruce Fulton, usually with Ju-Chan Fulton involved in the project too. I recently enjoyed the […]

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Book review: Song Sokze — The Amusing Life

by Philip Gowman 24 April 2017
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Song Sokze: The Amusing Life Translated by Se-un Kim Dalkey Archive, 2016, 233pp Originally published as 재미나는 인생, Kang Publishing Ltd, 1997 The most recent book to be discussed at the KCC’s monthly book club was Song Sokze’s The Amusing Life, a collection of around 50 short “stories”. None of these pieces will detain you […]

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Book review: Bandi — The Accusation

by Philip Gowman 16 March 2017
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Bandi: The Accusation – Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea Translated by Deborah Smith Serpents Tail 2017, 245 pp Originally published as 고발, Chogabje.com, 2014. Mike Breen, in his book The New Koreans, describes han as “a kind of rage and helplessness that is sublimated and lingers like an inactive resentment” and is often evidenced in […]

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