Who Ate Up All The Shinga – a critical essay by Alice Bennell

Alice Bennell, UK winner of last year’s Korean Literature Translation Institute essay contest on “There a Petal Silently Falls”, contributes her entry for this year’s competition. Who Ate Up All the Shinga is an autobiographical novel chronicling the early life of the author, Park Wan-Suh. The Japanese occupation of Korea, and events leading up to […]

Nineteen Years in South Korea’s Gulag

Suh Sung: Unbroken Spirits – Nineteen Years in South Korea’s Gulag Rowman & Littlefield, 2001 Original Japanese version, (Gokuchû 19 Nen, Nineteen Years in Prison) 1994 We are all familiar with stories reporting the horrors of torture and starvation in North Korean prison camps. What we can forget is that over the past decades South […]

Book review: The Reluctant Communist

Charles Robert Jenkins: The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea University of California Press, 2008 “Our choices are what makes us who we are. Nobody knows that better than me.” So ends the autobiography of Charles Robert Jenkins, the only American to spend most of his life in North Korea […]

The Korean War: the Korean version

General Paik Sun Yup: From Pusan to Panmunjom Potomac Memories of War, 2007 (original English version pub 1992) Your typical book on the Korean War centres on Generals MacArthur and Ridgeway, on the landing at Incheon and maybe (if it’s a British account) the battle at the Imjin. It’s a war fought by Americans, with […]

Book review: Brother One Cell

Cullen Thomas: Brother One Cell — Coming of Age in South Korea’s Prisons Pan Books, 2007 A “powerful, harrowing and moving memoir”, proclaims the blurb on the back. “A Korean tear in the muscle round the ribs, a Korean hernia…” reads the selective quote. The cover design, a Getty image of hands grasping prison bars, […]

Susie Younger: Never ending flower

Susie Younger: Never ending flower Collins Harvill, 1967 To describe this book as a memoir of a Catholic missionary in South Korea in the early 1960s, while factually correct, undersells it. Yes, the author is a person of deep Christian faith, but her work in Korea is more that of a social worker than evangelist. […]

Andrew Holloway: A Year in Pyongyang

(Aidan FC’s website, 1988) Amid the pile of available reading material on the DPRK, is there room for an unpublished memoir, getting on for 20 years old, recording the experiences of a lowly “raiser” — someone who converts Konglish into English — in late 1980s Pyongyang? Definitely yes. Though obviously not state of the art, […]

Elizabeth Kim: Ten Thousand Sorrows

(Doubleday, 2000) This one’s really depressing, and it’s amazing how the author (this is autobiographical) seems to have ended up reasonably unscathed — outwardly at least. If ever you think you’ve had a tough time, read this book and you’ll feel better: someone’s had it worse. This is the story of the mixed-race daughter of […]