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Lists Tagged “Korean Authors”

Please Look After Mom by Shin Kyung-sook

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Ten Important Modern and Contemporary Writers from South Korea

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5 Korean Novels You Should Read Now

By Lilit Marcus

South Korea is becoming a major player on the world’s literary scene, beginning with last year’s London Book Fair, which spotlighted Korean literature. In particular, the country’s literary scene is making a name for itself with dark, transgressive fiction by female writers, some of which might not feel familiar or likable enough for American readers—but they’re well worth the challenge. In the post– Gone Girl era, “dark” gets thrown around a lot when describing books that have anything other than a happily ever after ending, but these books really will take you to a dark place—as in “teenage girl has sex with her father to make him feel better after mom goes to prison for hacking up a teenage boy” dark. You’ve been warned.

“Western audiences love strong, memorable, active main characters, whereas Korean literature has tended to find an aesthetic value, and a social truthfulness, in quietness, ordinariness, [and] passivity,” says Deborah Smith, a London-based translator of Korean literature and the founder of Tilted Axis Press . (She translated The Vegetarian , mentioned below.) “They’re not coming from the tradition of the Romantic hero, and the contemporary culture is nowhere near as individualist as ours.” On that note, here are a few books you should know about—just don’t mistake any of them for beach reads.

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Han Kang, The Vegetarian

Kang, daughter of a well-known writer, is a star in Korea, and The Vegetarian —three connected novellas published in a single volume—is her first to be translated into English. It kicks off with a scene many Americans will find familiar, where a young woman announces to her family that she’s a vegetarian now. But while scenes like that are often played for humor in American pop culture (Lisa Simpson, anyone?), Kang’s heroine’s decision sets off a series of unsettling events: her marriage ends, her parents renounce her, she runs the risk of being committed. It’s a complex, terrifying look at how seemingly simple decisions can affect multiple lives, and it also ably portrays the mindsets of both the titular vegetarian and the long-suffering sister who becomes her caretaker. In a world where women’s bodies are constantly under scrutiny, the protagonist’s desire to disappear inside of herself feels scarily familiar.

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Suki Kim, The Interpreter

Kim’s recent memoir, Without You, There Is No Us , detailed Kim’s (born in Korea and raised in the United States) experience teaching English to the sons of North Korea’s 1 percent. But her 2003 novel focuses on the Korean immigrant experience in America through the story of a young woman whose parents are murdered in the bodega they manage. She soon learns that their deaths are not random and is slowly drawn into the community’s dark, mistrustful underbelly. Kim nails the voice of a woman wedged between two cultures, not sure whether she really belongs in either. Many stories about first-generation Americans veer toward the nostalgic or the hardscrabble, but The Interpreter doesn’t take easy paths.

young korean writers

By Maggie Coughlan

young korean writers

By Vanity Fair

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Krys Lee, Drifting House

Krys Lee’s challenging short stories deal with Koreans who feel out of place, from a divorcée who agrees to be a mail-order bride in Los Angeles in order to start a new life, to a little boy trying to flee North Korea by crossing a frozen river to China. They can be difficult to read and deal with decidedly un-sunny topics (murder, abuse, incest), but there’s a lingering honesty that makes each of the characters sympathetic no matter what their life choices are. The short story is a highly prestigious form in Korea, and Lee puts a very modern stamp on the age-old format.

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Kyung-sook Shin, Please Look After Mom

In 2012, Kyung-sook Shin became the first woman to win the Man Asian literary award for her book Please Look After Mom . The basic plot of the novel is that an old woman goes missing after disappearing at a Seoul subway station, and her family goes looking for her. Along the way, though, her relatives have to ask themselves serious questions about how well they really know their mother and what kind of life she had outside of being a caretaker for others. Shin told CNN that she had wanted to write the book for 30 years before she actually attempted it: “It took me so long to write it because my concept of ‘mother’ changed so much over all those years. I had to think long and hard about my own mother in that time and I found that thinking about your own mother is really thinking about yourself.” Shin has also said that the book—which sold 10 million copies in Korea alone—deals with the Korean concept of han , which is sometimes translated in English as “a feeling of sorrow and oppression” or “profound, prolonged sadness.”

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Nora Okja Keller, Fox Girl

Okja Keller’s two novels, Comfort Women and Fox Girl , look at the culture of “comfort women” who were forced into sex work during World War II. The women of Fox Girl are regularly degraded and humiliated; one develops a reputation for “doing the things nobody else would do.” Sometimes, reading it feels like getting punched in the stomach. But it’s that uncomfortable feeling that makes it a book worth reading. Considering that it took until the 1990s for either the Korean or Japanese governments to begin to acknowledge what had happened to the comfort women during the war, Keller’s books feel downright revolutionary. Smith adds that Korea’s female-centric literature is a particularly interesting field to watch these days: “Korean society is changing all the time, becoming more globalized. The role of women is a particularly interesting one, I think—the way a Western reader might read a Korean book and think they have it lucky, but also get to wondering whether we’re really as free as we might like to think, or at least whether we’re using those freedoms as much as we might.”

Related : Why Gone Girl Author Gillian Flynn Is Never Having Her Tarot Cards Read Again

Lilit Marcus

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young korean writers

By Bess Levin

Steve Drazkowski

By Anthony Breznican

Become a Writer Today

20 Best Korean Authors: Must-Read K-Literature

Discover our guide with the best Korean authors you’ll want to add to your reading list. 

Western audiences have grown increasingly interested in Korean culture in recent years. From K-pop to K-food, K-beauty to K-drama, audiences have an insatiable appetite for everything Korean. To get a taste of South Korea’s culture, nothing compares to a page-turning novel. 

Contemporary Korean fiction gives audiences an intimate, personal look at the modern-day struggles of a generation searching for identity, freedom, equality, and justice. Their stories remind us of commonalities. Discover the rich and storied culture of South Korea and its people with a book by one of the best Korean authors. If you’re interested in this topic, you might also enjoy the best Greek authors !

Best Korean Authors

1. min jin lee, 1968 – , 2. cho nam joo, 1978- , 3. sohn won-pyung, 1979- , 4. shin kyung-sook, 1963, 5. frances cha, 6. han kang, 1970 –, 7. sang young park, 1988-, 8. hwang sok yong, 1943 –, 9. wan suh park, 1931 – 2011, 10. ha-joon chang, 1963 –, 11. krys lee, 1964 –, 12. yun choi, 1953 –, 13. kim young-ha, 1968 –, 14. kim un-su, 1972 –, 15. sora kim-russell, 1976 –, 16. yun ko eun, 1980 –, 17. ko un, 1933 –, 18. oh jung-hee, 1947 –, 19. kim in-suk, 1963 –.

Best Korean Authors

As a child of immigrants, Min Jin Lee spent many enjoyable hours at the Queens Library, learning English book by the book. After earning her degree at Yale University, Lee practiced law in New York City for two years before quitting to focus on writing. Lee initially wrote short stories, some featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts. Then in 2007, she published her first novel, Free Food For Millionaires . Though her debut novel was critically acclaimed, she is most well known for her book, Pachinko . 

Pachinko is a sweeping generational saga about a Korean family migrating to Japan. The story chronicles the family’s encounters with racism, stereotyping, and discrimination as they attempt to build a life while retaining their history and traditions. It was the first known book written in English about the intersection of Korean and Japanese culture. The novel was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award and was released as an AppleTV series in 2022.

“You want to see a very bad man? Make an ordinary man successful beyond his imagination. Let’s see how good he is when he can do whatever he wants.” Min Jin Lee, Pachinko

Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist)

Cho Nam Joo

Cho Nam Joo attended all-girls schools throughout her education, eventually graduating with a degree in sociology from Ewha Women’s College. After graduation, Nam-Joo became a successful scriptwriter but could not reenter the workforce after taking time off for the birth of her first child. She began researching women’s issues in Korea as she searched for work. Her efforts eventually culminated in her most well-known novel Kim Ji-Young, Born 1982 , for which she earned international acclaim. 

Kim Ji-Young, Born 1982 is often touted as launching a modern-day feminist movement in South Korea. It is the story of a 33-year-old stay-at-home mom who suffers a mental breakdown under the crushing misogyny and expectations of Korean women. The novel was translated into 18 languages and sold over a million copies. It was adapted into an award-winning Korean film in 2019. 

“Jiyoung grew up being told to be cautious, to dress conservatively, to be “ladylike.” That it’s your job to avoid dangerous places, times of day, and people. It’s your fault for not noticing and not avoiding.” – Cho Nam-Joo, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Sohn Won-Pyung

Sohn Won-pyong grew up in Seoul, South Korea, and is the daughter of a prominent Korean politician. She received degrees in sociology and philosophy at Sogang University, then pursued a degree in film directing from The Korean Academy of Film Arts. Won-pyung was a well-regarded film director until she turned to writing after the birth of her first child. Her debut novel for young adults, Almond , earned her international attention. 

Almond’s protagonist, Yunjae, has a rare brain condition that makes it difficult to experience the emotions most of us take for granted, like fear or anger. His mother helps him navigate the world until a tragic accident changes everything and forces him to find courage. It is a powerful story about friendship and persistence. 

“Love is what makes a person human, as well as what makes a monster.” Sohn Won-Pyung, Almond

Almond: A Novel

Shin Kyung-Sook

At 16, Kyung-Sook Shin, the fourth of six children, left her parent’s home in a remote South Korean village to move in with her brother in Seoul. There she worked in an electronics factory by day and went to school at night until finally earning a degree in creative writing from the Seoul Institute of the Arts. Shin earned international acclaim with her 9th novel, Please Look After Mom , which has since been translated into 19 languages. 

Please Look After Mom is a haunting story about a 69-year-old woman who becomes separated from her husband in a busy subway station in Seoul. The tale alternates between the perspectives of a husband, daughter, son, and mother as they desperately seek to be reunited. Long-buried secrets and struggles float to the surface, and the family members begin to wonder if they ever knew one another. 

“Either a mother and daughter know each other very well or they are strangers.” Kyung-Sook Shin, Please Look After Mom

Please Look After Mom

Frances Cha

Frances Cha began writing stories at only eight years old. She recalls that her childhood stories had protagonists who were all white, blonde American girls. It took her decades to embrace her heritage and begin writing from a decidedly Korean perspective. After earning her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, Cha was a travel and culture editor for CNN in Seoul. Her debut novel, If I Had Your Face , has been translated into 11 languages and was named one of the year’s best books by several publications, including NPR, Time , and Esquire . 

If I Had Your Face follows four young women living and working in Seoul. The hair stylist, the recent graduate, the new mother, and the hostess all attempt to carve out a life for themselves despite impossible social standards. They find that they are stronger together and that friendship might be the thing that saves them all. 

“I wanted to reach out and shake her by the shoulders. Stop running around like a fool, I wanted to say. You have so much and you can do anything you want. I would live your life so much better than you, if I had your face.” Frances Cha, If I Had Your Face

If I Had Your Face: A Novel

Han Kang

Image description: A photo of Han Kang, a young Korean woman, at a book reading. 

Han Kang and her family moved from Gwanju, where she was born, to Seoul when she was ten. After graduating high school, she studied Korean literature at Yonsei University and soon made her literary debut. Han’s first novel to be translated into English, The Vegetarian , earned her the Man Booker International Prize for Fiction in 2016. She was the first Korean in history to have done so. Kang is also well known for her harrowing and controversial book, Human Acts, which was short-listed for the Dublin Literary Award.

Human Acts chronicles the aftermath of the tragic death of a young boy during a violent student uprising. The interconnected chapters are told from the perspective of the bereaved friends and family he left behind. The collective agony of these people as they encounter suppression and search for their voice is riveting and universally relevant. 

“I’m fighting alone, every day. I fight with the hell that I survived. I fight with the fact of my own humanity. I fight with the idea that death is the only way of escaping this fact.” Han Kang, Human Acts

Human Acts: A Novel

Sang Young Park

San Young Park was born in Daegu, one of the most conservative places in Seoul. He says that his life truly began when he moved to Seoul to attend university, where he gained a broader perspective. He studied French and journalism at Sungkyunkwan University, then worked for seven years as a copywriter and editor before making his literary debut as a novelist. His 2021 novel, Love In the Big City , made the top five list of all the major booksellers and went into 26 printings. 

Love In the Big City is a series of four short stories that create a cohesive novel. It chronicles the life, love, and loneliness of a hard-drinking, fun-loving queer young man. From his nightlife exploits with his best friend and roommate, his struggles with an ailing and disapproving mother, and his latest Tinder matches, readers get an intimate, heartbreakingly hilarious look at twenty-first-century Korean life. 

“I was already thirty, a legal adult for ten years, and was old enough to know that my mother did not exist solely to hinder my existence but was a person in her own right who had fought hard making her way through life.” Sang Young Park, Love in the Big City

Love in the Big City

Looking for more? Check out our round-up of the best South Korean authors !

Hwang Sok Yong

Born in Japanese-occupied Northern China in 1943, Hwang Sok Yong ’s life story is as fascinating as his contributions to Korean literature.

After leaving China and settling in South Korea, he was drafted to fight in the Vietnam war on the American-supported Souther-side. Like many Korean writers , he has been deeply impacted by the brutality he witnessed in Vietnam, which is often seen in his work.

After the war, Yong returned to South Korea, where he actively participated in anti-government movements that eventually ended South Korea’s dictatorship in 1972.

Yong’s activism led to his imprisonment, which, combined with his war record, has given him first-hand experience of some of the world’s darkest human acts.

The Shadow of Arms tells the story of the black markets used by the northern Vietnamese to overcome the southern US-backed forces. The novel is based on Yong’s first-hand experience in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang, where he was tasked with rooting out the black market activity during the war. Hwang Sok Yong is a must-read if you want to learn more about the Vietnam war from a first-hand perspective.

“People hated and killed each other back then. Now even those who survived are dying, leaving this world one by one. Unless we find a way to forgive one another, none of us will ever be able to see each other again.” Hwang Sok Yong

Wan Suh Park

Born in North Korea in 1931, the first half of Wan Suh Park ’s life was impacted directly by the second world war, the Korean war, and the Vietnam war. As a child Park witnessed the Japanese invasion and occupation of what is now North Korea. During her early adult years, she watched her country ripped in half by the Korean war, during which she was forcibly taken from her mother at a young age by North Korean forces.

Her talents as a writer were repressed by war, and as a result, her literary career didn’t get started until the 1970s, just as the South Korean dictatorship was crumbling and the Vietnam war was ending. Through writing, Park could express the trauma that she and many others on both sides of Korea experienced during the war.

She collated several fascinating short stories in her book Year of Famine in the City , telling the reader of the harrowing poverty people faced in Seoul during the Korean war. Add it to your book list to learn about Korea’s 20th-century history. Park’s work reminds us that despite the prosperity enjoyed by South Korea in the 21st century, it was not so long ago a war-torn country where millions struggled to survive.

“What made his face burn was a sense of failure, the yearning for freedom that remained unfulfilled and the acute realisation that he didn’t know anything.” Wan Suh Park

Ha-Joon Chang

Ha-Joon-Chang witnessed the so-called economic miracle that transformed South Korea from one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the richest. He embarked on an incredibly successful career in developmental economics as he tried to decipher why some countries grow while others stagnate in poverty.

His work is regarded as the most important in economics and development. If you’re looking for book recommendations to help you better understand poverty and growth, then Chang’s work should be on your reading list.

One of his best books is Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism , which uses examples from Chang’s childhood in South Korea to explain why the global economic system often hinders the development of poor countries.

“People who live in poor countries have to be entrepreneurial even just to survive.” Ha-Joon Chang

Krys Lee

Krys Lee is a university creative writing professor, journalist, and author from South Korea. Her work has received several high-profile literary awards, including the Rome Prize and the Story Prize Spotlight Award. Currently, she works at the Underwood International College in Seoul.

How I Became A North Korean is arguably Krys Lee’s best book, especially for anyone looking to learn more about life in North Korea. The book follows the three main characters, Danny, Jangmi, and Yongju, who escape North Korea and flee to a small Chinese town across the border.

The three characters are plunged into a world of uncertainty, allowing Lee to explore themes of displacement, identity, and human rights abuse. If you like the sound of How I Became A North Korean , you should also consider reading Drifting House .

“ [I] often think about borders. It’s hard not to. There were the Guatemalans and Mexicans I read about in the paper who died of dehydration while trying to cross into America. Or later, the Syrians fleeing war and flooding into Turkey.” Krys Lee

Yun Choi

Yun Choi , also known as Choe Yun, is a respected academic from Seoul, South Korea, who holds a Ph.D. from Sogang University. Although her work has some variety, she is primarily known for her politically-themed books and papers. Her most notable work covers major political and historical events in South and North Korea and themes that touch on patriarchy.

There a Petal Silently Falls: Three Stories by Choe Yun is one of her most hard-hitting politically themed books. The three short stories explore the fallout from the Kwangju Massacre that saw an estimated 2,000 civilians killed by the forces of the South Korean dictatorship. 

The book’s first part tells the story of a young girl’s tragic attempt to survive in a hostile environment after her mother is killed due to state-sanctioned violence against women. The second part covers left-wing intellectuals’ brutal treatment during South Korea’s dictatorship until 1972. The third and final part is a critical commentary on consumerism and the world of academia.

“He felt intensely, sparingly violent whenever he saw her, and ultimately he lacked the superhuman effort necessary to control these impulses.” Yun Choi

Kim Young-ha

Widely regarded as one of the most talented writers of a generation, Kim Young-ha’s historical fiction and crime thrillers are fantastic reads for anyone interested in these genres. Young-ha ’s work often focuses on the general absurdity of our everyday life and cleverly weaves what appear to be everyday scenarios into exciting crime thrillers .

Born into a military family, Young-ha spent much of his early life on the move. He spent his early adulthood at the University of Yonsei in Seoul, where he studied Business Administration.

Business never really interested Young-ha; despite his degree, he focused more on his writing.

His most notable book is Whatever Happened to the Guy Stuck in the Elevator?, which turns an apparently mundane incident into an exciting short story. The mundane setting snowballs into a dramatic tale that touches on all sorts of themes, such as narcissism, the tragedy of modern 9-5 life, and the basic principles of capitalist society.

“A revolution cannot progress without the fuel of terror. With time that relationship inverts: the revolution presses forward for the sake of terror.” KimYoung-ha

Kim Un-su

Born in the South Korean city of Busan, Kim Un-su , also written Un-su Kim, is an award-winning South Korean short story writer. In 2002 he published his first short story Easy Writing Lessons , which won a South Korean award. His success in the early 2000s pushed him to try and break onto the international scene.

In 2010 Kim made it onto the international stage when he published the crime thriller The Plotters . A French publishing house initially picked up the book, which was later translated into English.

The Plotters takes place in Seoul and tells the story of several assassins competing for dominance over the contract the city’s criminal gangs issued. If you’re looking for a Korean crime thriller, consider adding The Plotters to your reading list.

“Black tea is steeped in imperialism. That’s what gives it its flavor. Anything this flavorful has to be hiding an incredible amount of carnage.” Kim Un-su

Sora Kim-Russell

The California-based American-Korean author Sora Kim-Russell holds a master’s in East Asian studies from Stanford and has contributed to Korean literature through her impeccable translation work. Her translations have been featured in major outlets such as Harper’s magazine and the New Yorker. In addition, she’s been entrusted with translating the work of some of the most respected Korean authors, including Pyun Hye-young and Hwang Sok-Yong.

One of her most successful translations was of At Dusk by Hwang Sok-Yong . The short novel combines elements of love and nostalgia as it follows a successful South Korean architect down memory lane as he returns to his childhood sweetheart. The translation by Kim-Russel received several awards.

“The future is not a thing we enter, but a thing we create.” Sora Kim-Russell

Yun Ko Eun

Representing a new generation of writers who never lived under the South Korean dictatorship, Yun Ko Eun is a radio host and author. As a result of her view of South Korea from a purely democratic and modern perspective, her work sheds light on modern life in the country and the concerns of the younger generation.

One of her most enthralling pieces of fiction is The Disaster Tourist , which was shortlisted for the Dublin Literary Award. Like many other Korean books with female authors, the story touches on the sexism women face in the workplace. The Disaster Tourist is more than a social commentary. It’s also a brilliant story about a woman forced to make a decision that leads to an absurd adventure.

“And if you, the reader, hadn’t picked this book, the narrative would be different still. When I think of the trajectory created by these converging choices, I hallucinate a constellation of coincidences floating in front of my eyes.” Yun Ko Eun

Ko Un

Image description: Photo of Ko Un speaking into a microphone.

Born in Japanese-occupied Korea, Ko Un’ s globally recognized poetry and novels often vividly describe Korea during its most difficult historical period. Un grew up in a poor peasant family in what is now South Korea. The Korean war traumatized the young poet who became a Buddhist monk and actively participated in the anti-government movements in the 1960s and 70s.

As an activist, Un was repeatedly detained and tortured by the Park regime. Un’s personal struggle embodied Korea’s struggle in the 20th century. He has written over 80 books and countless poems. One of his most successful pieces, The Sound of My Waves: Selected Poems , has been translated into several languages and includes some of Un’s most moving passages.

“In the old days a poet once said our nation is destroyed yet the mountains and rivers survive Today’s poet says the mountains and rivers are destroyed yet our nation survives” Ko Un

Oh Jung-Hee

O Chonhui, also known as Oh Jung-Hee , is a South Korean writer who has published short stories for nearly half a century. She grew up in the middle of the Korean War, 

and as with many Korean writers, the brutality of the events around her can be seen in her work.

Her work often depicts dark characters living in exceptionally dark circumstances where death is the only true relief. River of Fire is a collection of short stories that revolve around various female characters in different time periods and explores their struggles in an often hostile society.

“The sound of cannons that traveled from the other side of the mountain ridge would suddenly remind this quiet, sunken village of the war, and the refugees that arrived every now and then brought word that outside, there was still a war going on.” Oh Jung-Hee

Kim In-Suk

Kim In Suk is a seminal figure among South Korean writers that grew up as democracy took root in the country. She experienced the transition from Park’s regime firsthand, so themes of democracy often play a part in her books.

Although not many of her books have been translated, The Long Road is available in English, and it’s highly recommended if you want to learn about the lives of Korean immigrants who moved to Australia. Some of her work has been used in K-dramas, such as Save Me and Chief Kim .

“You’re going far away, don’t say it’s lonely. You please don’t be scared You will have everything someday” Kim In-Suk

Looking for more? Check out our round-up of the best Korean novels in English!

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After K-Pop, K-Lit? Why Young Korean Writers Are Creating a Stir in Japanese Publishing

young korean writers

K-Lit Goes Mainstream

The Japanese publishing industry, like many others around the world, has struggled in recent decades with shrinking sales as competition by online competitors increase. One recent work that has bucked this trend is the Korean novel Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 , by Cho Nam-Joo, which has sold more than 230,000 copies in Japan so far. A “feminist novel” depicting the deeply entrenched chauvinism and misogyny in Korean society, Kim Jiyoung came out in Japanese translation in December 2018. The book’s release in Japan catapulted its author to overnight success. Bookseller Kim Seungbok compares the impact of the novel to that of Bae Yong-Joon, the heartthrob actor and star of the television drama Winter Sonata who helped launch the “Korean wave” nearly 20 years ago, ushering in a new era of widespread popularity for the country’s cultural output.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 was made into a movie that was released in Japan in October 2020.

The success of Kim Jiyoung has been followed by several more bestsellers translated from Korea, notably I Decided to Live As Me , by Kim Soo Hyun, which has sold more than 550,000 copies since its 2019 release. This is just one of a remarkable series of successes for Korean books in Japan in recent years.

Coincidentally, both these books received a promotional boost when members of the Korean boy band BTS recommended them to fans. But Kim Seungbok says there is more to the recent popularity of Korean books than a single celebrity endorsement. She instead insists that the conditions necessary for Korean literature to make a breakthrough have been slowly coming into place for some time.

Although too modest to admit it, Kim was one of the people who laid down these foundations, having worked steadily to promote the literature of her home country since coming to Japan as a student 30 years ago.

Kim Seungbok

“When I first came to Japan, I was shocked that it was almost impossible to find translations of Korean literature outside university libraries,” Kim explains. “This was quite different from the situation in Korea, where bookstores were full of Japanese novels.” Kim took to translating stories by some of her favorite writers herself and circulated her translations among friends for discussions in an informal book club. In 2007, she formed Cuon, a publishing company that specializes in translations of Korean writing. In 2011, the company launched the “New Korean Literature Series,” as a way of introducing Japanese readers to works written since 2000.

The company’s first release was Kim’s personal choice to be the standard-bearer for the new series, Han Kang’s shocking and groundbreaking novel The Vegetarian .

Kim was determined from the outset that everything about the new series should epitomize quality and sophistication, down to cover designs and packaging. Han Kang’s book, which captures in evocative, powerful prose the lasting psychological trauma inflicted on its female protagonist, was prominently reviewed in the leading newspapers. In 2016, the book came to worldwide prominence when the English translation won the International Booker Prize, the first time the award had gone to a book translated from an Asian language. The book has continued to be one of Cuon’s bestselling titles ever since.

2015: A Breakthrough Year

The major turning point for Korean literature in Japan, Kim says, came in 2015, when the novella Castella by Park Min-gyu won the inaugural Best Translation Award. Scooping this high-profile prize, Kim says, helped bring Korean literature to the attention of readers and opened many people’s eyes to the ground-breaking and high-quality writing being published in Korea today.

Before democratization in 1987, many Korean novels were rather heavy-going affairs that grappled with somber subjects like colonial rule and the military dictatorship. Many were marked by a strong ethnonationalist ideology. A shift began to occur from the 1990s, as younger novelists started to publish more entertainment-driven books written for a mass readership. Their stories were marked by a lightness of touch that had been missing from the writing of previous generations, and addressed the struggles and anxieties of daily life from a more personal perspective. Many of these novels dealt with subjects that are serious social issues in Japan as well as Korea, including discrimination against women and growing economic disparities. This new style of writing and more accessible subject matter made it easier for readers in Japan to identify with Korean writing, Kim says.

A Korean Bookstore in Tokyo

Coincidentally, it was also in 2015 that Kim opened Chekccori, a bookstore and café in Tokyo’s Jinbōchō, Tokyo’s bookseller district. The store specializes in Korean writing, stocking around 4,000 volumes, including translations published by Cuon and other companies and books obtained directly from publishers in Korea. The store quickly became a magnet for lovers of Korean literature in the capital.

Every inch of shelf space is taken up by novels, anthologies, essays, illustrated books, comics, language textbooks, and magazines.

Kim has come up with a number of innovative ways to introduce the appeal of Korean writing to more readers in Japan, such as translation classes and guided tours that take loyal customers to the Korean cities that have provided the settings for popular books. Until the pandemic hit, the store regularly hosted authors, editors, and translators, and held around 100 events a year, including lectures, readings, and concerts.

Building a Community of Fans

Of course, there are limits to what even the most creative and ambitious person can do to popularize Korean literature on her own. Kim admits that one of her aims is to nurture a new generation of enthusiasts in Japan, who she hopes will work together with her to help Korean writing gain an even wider audience. “I want to form a community of people and share the joy of working together to bring this writing to as many people as possible,” she says.

One example of these efforts is a literary festival organized by K-Book, a foundation for which Kim serves as representative director. Held online in 2020, the festival hosted a series of events including presentations by editors at 26 publishing companies who introduced their favorite works among the Korean books their companies had published, as well as author readings and interviews, a roundtable discussion of translators, and a dialogue between Japanese and Korean book designers. These events helped to forge stronger ties between the writers and publishers who produce the books and the readers who support them, Kim says.

The foundation also organizes a translation competition as part of its efforts to unearth talented translators who can help bring the appeal of Korean writing to outside audiences. It is fair to say that the synergy created by these events together helped prepared the ground for the popularity enjoyed by Korean writing in Japan today.

K-Lit Goes from Strength to Strength

One striking aspect of the new popularity for K-lit is the number of new companies looking to get involved in publishing Korean books in translation. According to the K-Book foundation, more than 10 publishers were involved in translations of Korean essay collections alone between 2020 and 2021, and the number of Korean books being published in translation, including essays and other genres, increased nearly threefold.

“One area that’s particularly successful is science fiction by young writers in their thirties,” Kim says. Books like Chung Serang’s Koe o agemasu (I’ll Give You My Voice) and Kim Choyeop’s Watashi-tachi ga hikari no hayasa de susumenai nara (If We Can’t Go at the Speed of Light) offer an effective and refreshing combination of serious subject matter with an appealing lightness of touch, often depicting a vision of the near future. Compared to the work of writers of previous generations, Kim says, many of these recent books “have an approachability and warmth to them and carry a strong sense of the present moment.”

As for the future of Korean literature itself, Kim says it is likely to go from strength to strength. “I think books like these will continue to find a wider audience in Japan in the years to come,” she says. “In Korea it’s quite natural for people to name Japanese authors like Murakami Haruki and Higashino Keigo among their favorite writers. I think we’ll soon have a similar situation in Japan. People will identify as fans of Han Kang, for example, and will look forward to reading the latest book by their favorite authors.”

There is no doubt that the growing popularity of K-Lit is one that lovers of good writing will want to keep their eyes on in the years to come.

(Originally published in Japanese. Banner photo: Kim Seungbok in her Chekccori bookstore. Photos by Kodera Kei.)

culture literature South Korea

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Famous Writers from South Korea


List of famous writers from South Korea, listed alphabetically with photos when available. South Korea is home to many prolific writers, including those who write fiction, non-fiction, poetry, biographies and more. These are some of the best South Korean writers that have ever lived, so if you're a native of South Korea and an aspiring writer then use this list as inspiration to achieve your own writing goals.

The list you're viewing is made up of writers like Guiyeoni and Han Moo-sook.

This list answers the questions, "Who are popular South Korean writers?" and "Which writers are from South Korea?"

Kim Ki-duk

Im Kwon-taek

Im Kwon-taek

Kim Ki-young

Kim Ki-young

Park Chan-wook

Park Chan-wook

Hong Sang-soo

Hong Sang-soo

Kim Jee-woon

Kim Jee-woon

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10 Contemporary Books by Korean American Writers

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Reading Lists

Caroline kim recommends stories from a thriller about the l.a. riots to a magical realist novel about a doppelgänger.

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In an interview in the NEA Arts Magazine, Toni Morrison revealed how she came to write The Bluest Eye :

“I wrote the first book because I wanted to read it. I thought that kind of book, with that subject—those most vulnerable, most undescribed, not taken seriously little black girls—had never existed seriously in literature.”

I felt similarly about middle-aged Korean immigrant men, men like my father who moved to America in their 30s and 40s, too old to ever be able to speak English fluently, too set in their ways to accept a culture where hierarchies are less rigid. Powerful at home, he was diminished in public, silent, unsmiling, removed, alone. I couldn’t help seeing him as strangers might. Who could guess at his inner life? Or even that he had an inner life? In my debut collection, The Prince of Mournful Thoughts , I tried to write the book I wanted to read: stories set during the Korean War, about important Korean historical figures, and the ordinary people I lived among but rarely saw reflected in the books I read.

The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories

I remember how excited I was when Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker came out. I felt a new consciousness, a distinctly Korean American consciousness, finally become a part of the literary imagination. I’ve cheered and been heartened by the popular success of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko , a moving account about Korean lives in Japan during the colonial occupation, World War II, and its aftermath. Their successes make space for others to follow, and I’m happy to say that there are many more than 10 contemporary Korean American books out there, not that there couldn’t be more. But lately, it’s become hard to keep up (a problem I welcome) and like Viet Thanh Nguyen said in an interview with NBC News, the more Asian American writers there are, the less the burden of representation, allowing for “greater eccentricity and experimentation.” I can’t wait to see what comes next.

In the meantime, here are ten contemporary books that enlarge our understanding of Korean America and introduce characters who, until now, haven’t existed seriously in literature.

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Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

Early in the novel, Grace, a young Korean American woman, thinks about her parents in this way: “Day by day, dollar by dollar, they built new lives in this foreign place, all so she and Miriam could grow up free and clear, American.” What follows shows her that little is “free and clear” for immigrant families like hers. Or for others also struggling to realize their American Dream. Based on a real-life tragedy that helped incite the L.A. Riots, Cha writes with impressive nuance about survival in a complicated world where the distinctions between victims and perpetrators are blurred by racism and capitalism.

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Edinburgh by Alexander Chee

I had never encountered a character like Aphias Zhe (“Fee”) before reading Chee’s novel. When asked if he’s Chinese, he answers Half : “Saying it always makes me feel split down the middle. Like a cow diagrammed for her sides of beef.” Twelve-year-old Fee’s life is further compartmentalized in the wake of the sexually predatory behavior of his choir master. In gorgeous prose that serves as a kind of grace, Chee shows us the fallout of this trauma and the ways in which Fee survives, the ways in which he’s changed.

Drifting House

Drifting House by Krys Lee

This is one of my favorite collections of short stories, and “The Salaryman” is my favorite in this collection. Clear-eyed and unsentimental, Krys Lee takes us into the life of one of the many faceless white-collar workers one sees packed into South Korea’s subway trains, one of many not thriving in Korea’s golden economic boom. After losing his job, Mr. Seo lives on the street with other jobless men like himself, so ashamed they can’t go home to their families. Instead they spend their time waiting in line for free food, dreaming of driving trucks or working as laborers in America, contemplating selling their kidneys for cash, and lying to their families. One such man “will call his parents and his wife, as he does every week, pretending to be in America. He will tell his parents that he, the oldest son, is their guarantee. He will promise to bring his wife over after he gets settled.”

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The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim

I thought a lot about the pain of separation and Korea’s division at the 38th parallel as I was reading this novel of two sisters torn apart by the vagaries of Korean history. When the family in the novel immigrates to America, they leave one child behind, for pragmatic reasons (easier to support a smaller family) and also as a placeholder, a promise to the grandmother that the family will return. They have no idea that soon the Korean War will erupt and keep them apart much longer than they anticipated. I loved this book because it showed me what life was like in Korea during the war and in its immediate aftermath, how people survived and even thrived.

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The Interpreter by Suki Kim

“Interpreting is almost a habit,” thinks Suzy Park, though for most of her life, it’s her older sister, Grace, who took on the bulk of the responsibility of translating for their immigrant parents. “Grace, since she was little, had to pore over a letter from the bank trying to make sense of words like “APR” or “Balance Transfers,” or call Con-Edison’s 800 number for payment extension.” Within this page-turning murder mystery, Suki Kim depicts the isolations that result from upended Korean parent/child relationships in a way that rings devastatingly true. 

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Once the Shore by Paul Yoon

It’s impossible not to fall under the spell of Paul Yoon’s spare, elegant prose in this collection of short stories. Set on a fictional island off the mainland of South Korea, there is something haunting about these stories even if they are as realist as they come. From one of my favorites, “So That They Do Not Hear Us”:

“The following year he was conscripted by the Japanese military, though to this day it was, for her, an abduction. They came for him riding horses. She clawed at their boots and the horses’ flanks. They kicked her down and she hit her head against the base of a tree. Briefly she lost consciousness. When she woke, her eyes focused on the animals and their soft sighs, their white breaths. Hooves lifting, stamping the ground. Tremendous eyes. As if they had come from myth.”

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Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell

At the beginning of this funny, bittersweet novel, the main character, Helen Moran gets a call that her adopted Korean American brother died by suicide. Also adopted, also from Korea but not blood related to her brother, she says, “I was the only one, perhaps, who knew and understood him.” Deciding to become a kind of detective in order to find out why he killed himself, she returns home to her estranged parents. What follows is a confrontation with her past that finally gives Helen Moran a kind of illumination.

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Shelter by Jung Yun

Kyung Cho, the protagonist of Jung Yun’s novel, has always struggled to be the good Korean son. Though he chose not to go to college in California when he had the chance, instead remaining near his parents in Massachusetts, he tries to keep a great distance between them.

“Brick by brick, he’s built a wall around his life, trying to preserve his family and home as his alone. He helps out his parents when asked and visits when invited, but not too often, and never as much as he should. It’s the most he’s willing to do, the absolute minimum he can get away with and still be considered a son.”

Smartly paced, Yun unfolds the violence at the heart of this family made more heartbreaking by her spare, understated prose.

East Goes West by Younghill Kang

East Goes West by Younghill Kang

Published in 1937, Younghill Kang’s novel can in no way be called contemporary yet I’m including it because it still has an unmistakably modern sensibility. A romp of a novel, thanks to the ebullience of the main character, Chungpa Han, who travels across the U.S. and parts of Canada, meeting Americans of all kinds—African Americans in Harlem, a senator who picks him up hitchhiking, the wealthy men and women who hire him as houseboys and drivers. I’ll never forget the scene when he becomes a waiter at a Chinese restaurant and calculates that among the nine waiters, there “were three Ph.D.’s from Columbia, and two more to be next June; a B.A. and B.S. and one M.A.” Yet, the only work they can get is waiting tables.  It reminded me too painfully of my own parents, college graduates, working in assembly-line jobs or their good friend, a professor back in Korea, whom they never failed to address as Dr . Kim.

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Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear by Matthew Salesses

Matthew Salesses begins his novel with “An Abbreviated List of Disappearances” which includes the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Asiatic Barred Zone Act of 1917, and Executive Order 9066 in 1942 which effectively pushed Japanese Americans into internment camps. From there, he takes the idea of the “invisible Asian” to a whole new level. In interesting ways, Salesses plays with the ideas of identity and disappearance, beginning by giving his protagonist his own name, Matt. In fact, there are two Matts and two Yumi’s, his girlfriend, although one of them is named Sandra. Hyper-real, this novel made me laugh and think.

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Bust of Virginia Woolf

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For a wave of Korean American young adult novelists, Korean pop culture is a touchstone

"Rebel Seoul" by Axie Oh, "Somewhere Only We Know" by Maurene Goo, and "Wicked Fox" by Kat Cho.

When Kat Cho began writing what would become her debut novel, “Wicked Fox,” she knew three things: She “wanted a strong Korean girl to be the lead” and wanted to draw inspiration from Korean mythology and the intricate world of K-dramas, both of which she grew up on.

“I had all of these ideas based on old Korean mythology because, when I was a little girl, my parents would leave these mythology books on the shelves and say, “This is for you to read,’” Cho said. “So in between reading ‘The Baby-Sitters Club,’ I would read these myths.”

“Wicked Fox,” which was released by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on June 25, draws on the myth of the gumiho, or nine-tailed fox. A fantasy novel set in contemporary Korea, the book follows the teenage Gu Miyoung, a secret gumiho who has to consume the energy of men to survive. Gu Miyong is a typical teen, peppering her dialogue with references to Korean pop culture.

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News An Asian Pacific American Heritage Month reading list: Fiction

“It’s really nice because you don’t need to know who those people are to read the book, but if you do it’s like, ‘Oh, I know who that is!'” Cho said. “It’s a really nice Easter egg and I really wanted to include that.”

Cho is part of a new generation of Korean American young adult novelists drawing inspiration from the Korean pop culture they grew up consuming.

Kat Cho

While K-pop may now seem ubiquitous with the popularity of groups like BTS , Cho recalled being teased for her K-pop fandom as a teen in central Florida in the 1990s.

“I learned, ‘I can listen to this on my own in private, and I can enjoy in private but it is not something that people around me want to share,’” Cho said. “I didn’t need other people to enjoy it.”

That was part of the reason Cho wondered if a K-drama-inspired novel would click with a mainstream reading public.

“Growing up, I only had books with Caucasian protagonists who lived in Western world,” she recalled. “I never really thought I would write a book with characters that look like me who lived in Asia, because I didn’t think it would be marketable in the young adult market.”

Many Korean American authors’ first introduction to Korean pop culture came from their families. Axie Oh, whose sophomore novel, “Rogue Heart,” is slated to come out this fall, recalled watching K-dramas like the romantic dramedy “Full House” with her mother from an early age.

Axie Oh

Oh said that as a self-described preteen “Korean American girl with very little mirrors in the media,” watching shows that featured Asian faces was transformative.

While her debut “Rebel Seoul” was heavily influenced by the world of K-pop and the intense fandom that surrounds the musicians, she said the influence is less direct in her latest book — though the influence of K-drama-style storytelling is present.

“Music really helps me set the tone and emotional beats for scenes,” said Oh, noting that she also draws on her frequent trips to Seoul and Busan, South Korea, to portray modern Korean culture. “For example, I wrote ‘Rogue Heart’ to IU’s album, ‘Palette.'”

Fellow novelist Maurene Goo’s introduction to K-pop was from the other Korean American girls at her Los Angeles-area high school. “I went through a phase of really trying to fit in,” Goo, who graduated in 1999, recalled. “I bought tapes and CDs. And I would go to karaoke and try to sing with them.”

But Goo started to lose track of that fandom when she went to college, though she still often watched K-dramas. Her 2017 book, “I Believe In a Thing Called Love,” featured a K-drama-loving Korean American teen. The story clicked with readers who related to the characters.

“They were just excited to see an author explicitly talking about these things people felt were special to them but that weren’t part of mainstream America yet,” said Goo of her readers. “So they were excited it was being written about in an American YA novel.”

Maurene Goo

Afterward, fans began asking Goo if she also liked K-pop. As she began thinking about a possible story that involved Korean pop stars, a tweet came across her timeline from a reader wondering if someone would ever write a modern day YA version of the 1953 Audrey Hepburn film “Roman Holiday,” the classic about a sheltered royal who escapes for a day with a journalist.

Goo immediately latched on to the idea. “I knew that instead of a European princess, I wanted to make it a K-Pop star,” she said. Because she did not know much about modern music when she began writing, she began asking fans for recommendations.

Released in May, her book, “Somewhere Only We Know,” follows a Korean American K-pop star as she falls for a member of the paparazzi.

But in addition to being spurred to create strong main characters, writing a story influenced by K-dramas also means creating detailed side plots.

*takes a deep breath* #Kpop twitter: Who are your favorite girl bands & solo artists? Sassy music video links appreciated! — Maurene Goo (@maurenegoo) January 5, 2018

“K-dramas, when done well, they do a really good job of secondary characters. They make it really clear that no character lives in isolation,” Cho noted.

Ultimately, these authors hope that while K-pop and K-drama will draw fans to their books, readers will find a universality among the characters that goes beyond pop culture references.

“I definitely want them to take away the fact that no matter where you set a book or like how a character is raised, there is something you can pick up on and say ‘I know what that feels like,’” Cho said. “There’s always something you can latch on to when it comes to the characters themselves.”

Follow NBC Asian America on Facebook , Twitter , Instagram and Tumblr .

CORRECTION (Wednesday, June 26, 2019, 11:43 a.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated in one reference the name of Axie Oh's planned second novel. It is "Rogue Heart," not "Rebel Heart."

Lakshmi Gandhi is a contributor to NBC News.

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25 Must-Read Books by Asian and Asian American Authors

From treasured classics to new releases alike.

aapi books

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which celebrates and recognizes the vast contributions of the AAPI community to the history, culture, and accomplishments of the United States. In honor of the observance, consider cracking open one of the following books by Asian and Asian American authors, from classics including Amy Tan's beloved novel, The Joy Luck Club, and Ken Liu's award-winning collection of short stories, The Paper Menagerie , to newer releases like Avni Doshi's 2020 Booker Prize-shortlisted novel, Burnt Sugar , and Michelle Zauner's intimate memoir, Crying in H Mart .

Mariner Books Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen

Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen

"Gripping and compassionate,  Land of Big Numbers  traces the journeys of the diverse and legion Chinese people, their history, their government, and how all of that has tumbled—messily, violently, but still beautifully—into the present."

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

"Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness,  On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous  is as much about the power of telling one's own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard."

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

"Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan's finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee's complex and passionate characters—strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis—survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history."

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

"Klara and the Sun,  the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her."

How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang

How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang

"Both epic and intimate, blending Chinese symbolism and reimagined history with fiercely original language and storytelling,  How Much of These Hills Is Gold  is a haunting adventure story, an unforgettable sibling story, and the announcement of a stunning new voice in literature. On a broad level, it explores race in an expanding country and the question of where immigrants are allowed to belong. But page by page, it's about the memories that bind and divide families, and the yearning for home."

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

"In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared unspeakable loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Rather than sink into tragedy, they choose to gather to raise their spirits and money."

Heaven by Mieko Kawakami

Heaven by Mieko Kawakami

"Hailed as a bold foray into new literary territory, Kawakami's novel is told in the voice of a 14-year-old student subjected to relentless torment for having a lazy eye. Instead of resisting, the boy chooses to suffer in complete resignation. The only person who understands what he is going through is a female classmate who suffers similar treatment at the hands of her tormenters."

Edge Case by YZ Chin

Edge Case by YZ Chin

"Poignant and darkly funny,  Edge Case  is a searing meditation on intimacy, estrangement, and the fractured nature of identity. In this moving debut, YZ Chin explores the imperfect yet enduring relationships we hold to country and family."

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong

"Poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong fearlessly and provocatively blends memoir, cultural criticism, and history to expose fresh truths about racialized consciousness in America. Part memoir and part cultural criticism, this collection is vulnerable, humorous, and provocative—and its relentless and riveting pursuit of vital questions around family and friendship, art and politics, identity and individuality, will change the way you think about our world."

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

" Little Fires Everywhere  explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood—and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster."

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

"When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country's most eligible bachelor. On Nick's arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon, her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers."

Gallery / Saga Press The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

"Insightful and stunning stories that plumb the struggle against history and betrayal of relationships in pivotal moments, this collection showcases one of our greatest and original voices."

Knopf Crying in H Mart: A Memoir by Michelle Zauner

Crying in H Mart: A Memoir by Michelle Zauner

"From the indie rockstar of Japanese Breakfast fame, and author of the viral 2018  New Yorker  essay that shares the title of this book, an unflinching, powerful memoir about growing up Korean American, losing her mother, and forging her own identity."

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino

" Trick Mirror  is an enlightening, unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives. This is a book about the incentives that shape us, and about how hard it is to see ourselves clearly through a culture that revolves around the self. "

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

"A magnificent coming-of-age story steeped in nostalgia,  Norwegian Wood  blends the music, the mood, and the ethos that were the sixties with a young man's hopeless and heroic first love."

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

"Exuberance and dread, attachment and estrangement: in this novel, Jhumpa Lahiri stretches her themes to the limit. In the arc of one year, an unnamed narrator in an unnamed city, in the middle of her life's journey, realizes that she's lost her way. The city she calls home acts as a companion and interlocutor: traversing the streets around her house, and in parks, piazzas, museums, stores, and coffee bars, she feels less alone."

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

"Taut, symphonic, propulsive, and riveting from its opening lines,  A Burning  has the force of an epic while being so masterfully compressed it can be read in a single sitting. Majumdar writes with dazzling assurance at a breakneck pace on complex themes that read here as the components of a thriller: class, fate, corruption, justice, and what it feels like to face profound obstacles and yet nurture big dreams in a country spinning toward extremism."

My Year Abroad by Chang-Rae Lee

My Year Abroad by Chang-Rae Lee

"Rich with commentary on Western attitudes, Eastern stereotypes, capitalism, global trade, mental health, parenthood, mentorship, and more,  My Year Abroad  is also an exploration of the surprising effects of cultural immersion—on a young American in Asia, on a Chinese man in America, and on an unlikely couple hiding out in the suburbs."

Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn

Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn

"A wildly disparate group of characters—from movie stars to waiters, from a young junkie to the richest man in the Philippines—becomes caught up in a spiral of events culminating in a beauty pageant, a film festival, and an assassination. In the center of this maelstrom is Rio, a feisty schoolgirl who will grow up to live in America and look back with longing on the land of her youth."

In the Country by Mia Alvar

In the Country by Mia Alvar

"In these nine globe-trotting tales, Mia Alvar gives voice to the women and men of the Philippines and its diaspora. From teachers to housemaids, from mothers to sons, Alvar's stories explore the universal experiences of loss, displacement, and the longing to connect across borders both real and imagined."

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Five authors of Korean thrillers you should be reading, by Paula Woods

A collage of book jackets featuring “The Only Child,” by Mi-Ae Seo, “The Hole,” by Hye-Young Pyun, “The Plotters,” by Un-Su Kim, “The Good Son,” by You-Jeong Jeong and “The Investigation,” by J.M. Lee. Credit:

The list of top Korean crime novelists published in English — some of whom I’ve read, others I can’t wait to read — is woefully short but sure to grow. Some are pure mystery writers, others more literary but dabbling in the genre, as does much of the best writing coming from Korea today. There are voyages through Korean history, assassinations and suicides and bone-chilling family dramas, with a little of the phantasmagorical thrown in if that’s your thing. Make particular note of the forthcoming titles — signs of much more to come.

You-Jeong Jeong

You-Jeong Jeong.

Born in a rural county in South Korea’s South Jeolla province, Jeong was a nurse before turning to writing full time. Her novels have been bestsellers in South Korea; “ The Good Son ,” her first to be translated into English, has sold over a million copies. It’s inspired by the shocking double murder of two wealthy Korean parents by their son upon his return from a disastrous gambling trip to Las Vegas. In the novel, Han Yu-jin is awakened by the smell of blood in his Seoul home, only to discover his mother has been murdered in the kitchen, her throat slit and her body carefully posed. Yu-Jin’s constant headaches may remind readers of recent unreliable-narrator mysteries, but Jeong unspools the truth in a way that will make you fear for his community and remaining family. “The Good Son” reminds me of Patricia Highsmith’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” but Jeong is saying something about the complicated relationships among mothers and sons and siblings that will also resonate with American readers. Look for Jeong’s next thriller, “ Seven Years of Darkness ,” out from Penguin in June.

Un-Su Kim.

“ The Plotters ,” Kim’s energetic 2019 English-language debut, starts out as a character study of Reseng, a 32-year-old Seoul hit man rescued as an infant from a garbage can by nuns, then adopted by an assassin known only as Old Raccoon and raised in a library/criminal headquarters called the Doghouse. These hit men take their orders from “plotters,” a shadowy group with an array of clients. As Reseng steps out of line, he comes to feel trapped between the teachings of his mentor and the corporate sensibilities of the new wave, embodied by Hanja, a former Old Raccoon acolyte with his own shop — “like any other boss of a security company.” Hanja has the hit men killing one another and Reseng on the run. Reseng reemerges as the lethal weapon in a female-led plot to end the cycle of killings, resulting in a showdown reminiscent of Paris and Achilles, one of the myths that has haunted him since childhood. While “ The Plotters ” might not work for mystery purists, Kim never lets the pace lag in this wild yet thought-provoking novel.

Young-Ha Kim

Young-ha Kim.

The author served as an assistant detective with the South Korean Army’s military police before turning to fiction. A prolific novelist in his country, he’s published five books in English, including his debut, “ I Have the Right to Destroy Myself ,” and the thriller “Your Republic Is Calling You.” The latter unfolds over a single day as a North Korean spy living quietly in the south is suddenly called back to Pyongyang. “ Diary of a Murderer ,” Kim’s latest, is a collection of stories whose indelible characters include the child victim of a kidnapping who’s bonded with his abductor and a hit man with Alzheimer’s who muses, “It’s been twenty-five years since I last murdered someone, or is it twenty-six?”

Jung-Myung (J.M.) Lee

Jyung-Myung Lee.

Lee’s novels have sold millions of copies in South Korea, and some of them, most notably “Painter of the Wind,” have become successful television series . They are largely historical but frequently incorporate mystery elements. “ The Investigation ,” his first to be published in English, was a Vanity Fair top mystery pick for 2015. On the surface it’s a mystery set in Japan’s Fukuoka prison in 1944. There, a young guard, the literature-loving Watanabe Yuichi, is assigned to investigate the murder of a co-worker, a decorated war veteran whose brutality has earned him the nickname “The Butcher.” Yuichi finds a poem on the Butcher’s body written by an inmate, a fictionalized version of the celebrated poet Yun Dong-ju (who died in Fukuoka for his participation in the Korean resistance). In Lee’s lyrical telling, Yun’s poems so move Yuichi that he vows to protect them and the poet even as World War II comes to its horrific end. Other Lee novels that blend murder and international politics include “ The Boy Who Escaped Paradise ,” about a young, North Korean defector with Asperger’s.

Hye-Young Pyun

Hye-Young Pyun.

Pyun is the first Korean native to have a short story published in the New Yorker. “ Caring for Plants ” became the seed for her allegorical novel, “ The Hole ,” which won the Shirley Jackson Prize in 2017. “The Hole” tells the story of Oghi, a tenured professor paralyzed by a car crash that killed his wife. His caretaker is his mother-in-law, who mutters, “Save me” incessantly as she tends her daughter’s abandoned garden. While Oghi watches, as helpless as the writer in Stephen King’s “Misery,” his mother-in-law digs increasingly larger holes in the garden. Readers will come to learn that the professor is not as innocent as he seems and that the holes represent emptiness and isolation that haunt the living and the dead. Coming in May 2020 from Pyun is “ The Law of Lines ,” a book more firmly in the mystery genre that’s definitely on my list.

Illo for “only child” story in Books running 2/16/2020 . Shenho Hshieh/For The Times.

Review: ‘The Only Child’ arrives as Korean thrillers come of age

Mi-Ae Seo’s chilling homage to ‘Silence of the Lambs’ joins a burgeoning genre.

Woods is a book critic, editor and author of several anthologies and crime novels.

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12 Romantic Korean Young Adult Novels You Don’t Want to Miss

BTS. Parasite . Squid Game . Korean pop culture is becoming bigger and bigger in western media, and romantic Korean young adult novels are no exception. While none is so well known at this time as Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (which features Lara Jean, a half-Korean, half-white American teen who gets involved in a fake dating scheme after some old love letters accidentally make it into the mail), Korean and Korean American characters are showing up on bookshelves and ereaders more frequently as interest in Korean culture among western consumers grows.

K-pop stories among Korean YA fiction seem to be the most numerous at the moment, as an easy cultural access point for many western readers who are otherwise unfamiliar with Korean and Korean American culture. And with the ubiquity of K-pop, it’s no wonder. As publishers take on more Korean YA, however, the subjects expand. With options becoming more numerous, it can be hard to know where to start. So long as you’re in for some romance, these books will get you well on your way.

Check out the list below to get started, from some of the most popular romantic Korean young adult novels to the lesser-known books you won’t want to miss.

Emergency Contact by Mary HK Choi

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

No longer in the mundane routine of high school, Korean American Penny can hardly wait to escape to Austin, Texas, where she plans to train as a writer. White café barista Sam, already in Austin, is also looking to get away from everything, but he’s tied down by responsibilities and circumstances. When the two meet, there’s not much more than fumbling awkwardness, but they soon find a comfortable rhythm via texting that leads to deep sharing and serving as each other’s go-to emotional support. With a keen eye for generation-specific details and a nuanced take on mental health, Mary H. K. Choi took off running with this debut, followed by Permanent Record (featuring a half-Korean, half-Pakistani American main character) and Yolk (Korean American main character).

Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo

Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo

With an approaching opportunity to make it on the American scene as a Korean American K-pop star, Lucky just needs to give a top-notch performance on The Tonight Show . But first, she has to take care of this nagging craving for a hamburger. As a household name, Lucky can’t very well just march out of her hotel without security to grab a bite, though. Her chance comes in the form of Jack, who, as a Korean American tabloid photographer, knows a thing or two about sneaking around. But as Jack and Lucky make their way around Hong Kong, they get to know each other better and better and just might be planting the seeds of a romance — so long as Jack can keep his line of work a secret. Check out this book from one of the queens of romantic Korean young adult novels.

XOXO by Axie Oh

XOXO by Axie Oh

Korean American Jenny is focused on studying cello at a prestigious arts academy when she spends one night of unbridled fun with a mysterious boy at her uncle’s karaoke bar in Los Angeles. But it’s just one night, and by the following day, Jenny has no way to find Jaewoo. When she finally makes it to South Korea, she’s surprised to find Jaewoo enrolled in the same school as she is. And not only that, but Jaewoo is actually massively famous as one of the members of a popular K-pop band. Consequently, he’s not allowed to date. Now, both Jenny and Jaewoo will have to contend with how much of their dreams they’re willing to give up to be with each other.

Shine by Jessica Jung

Shine by Jessica Jung

Rachel Kim is about to have a real shot at her ultimate dream: becoming a K-pop star. Moving from the U.S. to Korea is a big enough challenge, but now this Korean American teen will also have to face the hurdles and rules of being molded into a pop superstar. In order to keep a squeaky-clean image, this includes a no-dating rule. But Rachel can hardly resist the charming Jason Lee, who has already made it as part of K-pop canon. Now, Rachel must decide if she’s willing to risk everything she’s ever worked for to be with Jason, all while confronting sexism, paparazzi, mean girls, and other major complications of life as an aspiring K-pop star. Written by real-life member of popular K-pop band Girls’ Generation.

Made in Korea by Sarah Suk

Made in Korea by Sarah Suk

She may just be in high school, but Valerie Kwon is already a girl boss. With a scheme to use the beauty business she runs with her cousin, Charlie, to raise enough to take her grandmother to Paris, there seems to be nothing standing in her way. Until Wes Jung shows up and starts selling K-pop beauty products and becomes V&C K-BEAUTY’s competition. In an entrepreneurial battle of sales, Valerie and Wes are going all out to outdo each other, but even in the midst of their contest, neither can deny their blooming chemistry. 

Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Frank Li’s parents have expectations for him, one of the biggest being “date Korean.” So when Brit, who is white, catches his eye, Frank is at a loss. At least in being caught between traditional Korean culture and the modern America that surrounds him, Frank isn’t alone. With the help of Joy Song, another Korean American in the same predicament, Frank thinks they can make it work. A fake dating scheme will give them the space to go out with their real love interests — until Frank and Joy realize they might be falling for each other after all.

I'll Be the One by Lyla Lee

I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee

As a fat girl with dreams of joining the exclusive world of K-pop, Skye Shin has a slim chance at achieving her goal. But she’s not about to let that stop her. After signing up to compete to be the next K-pop star, Skye sails through the first audition. But soon, she’s facing more pressure than she anticipated. K-pop standards are ridiculously high and meeting them seems nearly impossible, especially when Skye is preoccupied with her cute competition, Henry. 

K-pop Confidential by Stephan Lee

K-pop Confidential by Stephan Lee

With perfect grades, a talent for playing music, and an under-the-radar personality that makes her a parents’ dream, Candace Park only has to keep her obsession with K-pop boy band SLK to herself to keep up her flawless image. When she takes the opportunity of a lifetime and finds herself invited to a prestigious K-pop training program held by SLK’s label, Candace can hardly say no, no matter how hard it is to convince her parents. But this is just the beginning. Soon, Candace is thrown into the wild world of K-pop boot camp and to complicate things even more, when a fellow trainee catches Candace’s eye, she can hardly act on any romantic feelings with the strict no dating rule in place. But who could resist?

The Perfect Escape by Suzanne Park

The Perfect Escape by Suzanne Park

Nate Jae-Woo Kim and Kate Anderson have little in common outside of both being employed by a zombie-themed escape room and having rhyming names. Nate is in desperate need of money and a way to get it without drawing the attention of his Korean family, who is too prideful to accept help. Kate is dealing with a controlling father who also happens to be a major pioneer in technology, but doesn’t have funds to make it on her own. Together, they team up to take on a survival challenge that could just solve their financial problems. And along the way, they may gain something even more valuable — a shot at love.

Anna K by Jenny Lee

Anna K by Jenny Lee

High society has never seen so much drama as in Greenwich resident Anna K’s circle. Though mundane, her relationship with Alexander is perfect by perception (and her Korean American father approves), even if Anna’s brother is in the middle of a sexting scandal and her sister in the midst of a career-ending injury. Seeming perfection isn’t enough, though, when Anna meets Alexia. With a reputation of his own, it doesn’t seem likely that Anna and Alexia would be a good fit, but the pull is irresistible. The cost of a true romance might be too much, though, when Anna has every privilege to lose. 

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before by David Yoo

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before by David Yoo

After a life of misery and misfortune, Albert Kim has decided it’s best just to disengage with trying to enjoy the world. That is, until Mia walks into his life by way of his job at the Bern Inn. Mia’s perfect, and what’s more, she’s recently available, having ended a relationship with Ryan, who is everything Albert is not. After a few weeks working together, Albert and Mia are, miraculously, a thing. But then Ryan is diagnosed with cancer and not only is the whole town coming together to support him, but it seems like the perfect pity card to win back Mia. Now, Albert’s caught between maintaining his relationship and looking like the jerk of the century.

Once Upon a K-Prom by Kat Cho

Once Upon a K-Prom by Kat Cho (May 2022)

With her whole life feeling like she’s just an extra in everyone else’s movies, Elena Soo isn’t all that interested in going to prom. Besides, there are more important things, like trying to save her local community center. But then the stuff of fan fiction happens to Elena: A K-pop star appears at her door to ask her to prom. Robbie is someone from Elena’s past but since he was last in her life, he’s become super famous. He’s different from how she remembers, but the old crush she once had for him is still flickering. Now, Elena must decide whether all that comes with dating a celebrity, from the online haters to the relentless paparazzi, is worth it. 

Want something beyond romantic Korean young adult novels? Find a list of the best Korean light novels here and middle grade and YA books by Korean authors here .

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The Heroine of This Korean Best Seller Is Extremely Ordinary. That’s the Point.

“Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982,” a surprise hit when it was published, ignited what Cho Nam-Joo called “a public debate” around gender and inequality.

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“I wanted to write about the everyday and common but nonetheless undeserved experience of women around me,” said Cho Nam-Joo, author of “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982.”

By Alexandra Alter

Kim Jiyoung, the exceptionally average protagonist of Cho Nam-Joo’s novel, is 33, living on the outskirts of Seoul with her husband and infant daughter. She is exhausted by the monotony of cooking, cleaning and child-rearing, and vaguely resentful that she gave up her job at a marketing agency.

There’s nothing especially dramatic about her story, which is precisely Cho’s point. Translated from the Korean by Jamie Chang, Cho’s clinical prose is bolstered with figures and footnotes to illustrate how ordinary Jiyoung’s experience is. “In 2014, around the time Kim Jiyoung left the company, one in five married women in Korea quit their job because of marriage, pregnancy, childbirth and child care, or the education of young children,” she writes, adding exact percentages of working women by age group, with a footnote from a 2015 study published in South Korea’s Health and Social Welfare Review.

Even though her book, “ Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 ,” is fiction, Cho grounded it in statistics so that its message wouldn’t be dismissed as a made-up account of one woman’s experience, she said.

“I wanted to write about issues that women could not speak about before, because they were taken for granted,” Cho said last month during a Skype interview from her home in Seoul, where the streets in her neighborhood were empty because of the coronavirus outbreak. “I wanted to make this into a public debate.”

Her strategy worked. When “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982,” was published in Korea in 2016, it was received as a cultural call to arms. Celebrated and criticized in almost equal measure, the novel ignited a nationwide conversation about gender inequality. K-pop stars like Sooyoung of Girls’ Generation and RM of BTS praised it, delivering a major publicity boost. In 2017, a member of South Korea’s National Assembly bought copies of “Kim Jiyoung” for the entire legislative body. A politician with the left-wing Justice Party gave a copy to President Moon Jae-in with a note imploring him to look after women like Kim Jiyoung. When Seoul passed a new budget with additional money for child care, the city’s mayor promised that there would be “no more sorrow for Kim Jiyoung.”

Like Bong Joon Ho’s Academy Award-winning film “ Parasite ,” which unleashed a debate about class disparities in South Korea, Cho’s novel was treated as a social treatise as much as a work of art. It sold more 1.3 million copies in the country and was adapted into a feature film . Translation rights sold in around 20 countries, and the book took off in China, Taiwan and Japan. The English-language version, which comes out in the United States on Tuesday, has drawn praise from novelists such as Elif Batuman and Ling Ma , who wrote in a blurb that “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982” “possesses the urgency and immediacy of the scariest horror thriller — except that this is not technically horror, but something closer to reportage.”

Cho, a former television writer, is one of several female Korean novelists whose work is resonating at home and abroad. Some of Korea’s biggest and most celebrated literary exports in recent years have a feminist bent. Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian,” about a frustrated housewife who starves herself and believes she is turning into a tree, became a global best seller and won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016. Kyung-sook Shin’s novel “ Please Look After Mom ,” about a woman who sacrifices everything for her family then goes missing, won the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2012 and sold more than a million copies in Korea.

“There is no Korean literature without women or feminism right now,” said So J. Lee, who has translated contemporary Korean poetry and fiction by women.

Decades earlier, groundbreaking authors such as Oh Jung-hee, Park Wan-suh and Park Kyongni won commercial and critical acclaim in Korea, despite initially being dismissed as “yeoryu jakga” or “lady writers” by male literary critics, Lee said. Park Kyongni’s most famous work, a 16-volume novel titled “Toji,” was adapted into a movie, opera and television series.

The new, often subversive novels by Korean women, which have intersected with the rise of the #MeToo movement, are driving discussions beyond the literary world.

“These books exposed Korea’s dirty little secret, which is that despite being seemingly wealthy and modern and enlightened and cool, the social advances have fallen far, far, far behind the money,” said Euny Hong, author of “ The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation Is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture .” “What’s recent in Korean feminist literature is the first-world-problem nature of it, where Korea is an extremely wealthy country, and there’s still something that’s profoundly wrong.”

Cho wrote “Kim Jiyoung” in 2015, finishing a draft in just a few months. At the time, misogynistic trolls were becoming a greater presence online. False rumors proliferated on the internet that a South Korean woman had contributed to spreading the MERS virus in Hong Kong after refusing to be quarantined. Derogatory slang targeting housewives, like the term “mum-roach,” was becoming more prevalent.

“I wanted to write about the everyday and common but nonetheless undeserved experience of women around me, about the despair, exhaustion and fear that we feel for no reason other than that we’re women,” Cho said in an email through a translator. “I also wanted this story to not just be a work of fiction, but a very likely true-to-life biography of someone out there.”

Like her heroine, Cho experienced pervasive sexism throughout her life, she said. Born in Seoul in 1978, she studied sociology at Ewha Womans University, the nation’s top women’s college, then spent nearly a decade writing for current events TV programs. She quit to raise her child but found it difficult to restart her career — a biographical detail that informed her novel.

She began gathering articles and sociological data and decided to write a fictional biography of an average Korean woman, following her from birth to the present. In “Kim Jiyoung,” small disappointments and minor outrages trail Jiyoung for her entire life. When she is a child, her parents spoil her younger brother, while she and her sister have to share everything; at her all girls’ high school, male teachers grope and harass their students under the guise of examining their uniforms.

In her first job, Jiyoung and her female colleagues are passed over for choice assignments that are given to less competent but higher paid men. When Jiyoung gets married and decides to start a family, she and her husband quickly determine that she should be the one to stay home since he makes more money, an outcome that was a foregone conclusion. “The fact that Jiyoung saw this coming did not make her feel any less depressed,” Cho writes.

One day, when Jiyoung is sitting on a park bench drinking coffee while her daughter naps in her stroller, she overhears a stranger calling her a “mum-roach” who leeches off her husband’s paycheck. Her pent-up frustration boils over, and she begins speaking in the voices of other women, some living, some dead, the one moment where the story tips from the mundane into the slightly surreal.

Along with praise, the novel generated a backlash among men who opposed Cho’s feminist message. After the pop star Irene, a member of the group Red Velvet, said she was reading it, angry male fans posted videos of themselves burning photos of the singer. A crowdfunding effort began to support a parody book titled “Kim Ji-hun Born in 1990,” about a young Korean man who faces reverse discrimination for being male.

Cho never expected it to drive such extreme reactions. Now that it has become a blockbuster, she has been gratified by the responses from readers who saw their experiences reflected in Kim Jiyoung’s story.

“My novel made people speak out,” she said. “The novel became more complete thanks to the readers themselves.”

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A notebook every Christmas … Martha Mills writing one of her stories.

Martha Mills prize: new award for young writers launched by London Review Bookshop

Aimed at finding ‘lively, unusual, original’ writing by those aged between 11 and 14, the prize is inspired by the ‘imagination and curiosity’ of Martha, who died in 2021 aged 13

The London Review Bookshop has launched a prize for “lively, unusual or otherwise original” writing by 11-14 year olds, offering young people the chance to have their work published.

The Martha Mills Young Writers’ prize has been set up in memory of the daughter of Merope Mills, editor of the Guardian’s Saturday magazine, and Paul Laity, an editor at the London Review of Books (LRB). Martha died in 2021. Her parents said that it was Martha’s “great curiosity and imagination” that inspired the new award.

The Martha Mills Young Writers’ Prize logo.

“Every birthday and Christmas Martha would ask for the same presents: a notebook and a snow globe,” they said. “By the time she died, aged 13, she was an enthusiastic writer with dozens of snow globes and piles of notebooks bursting with book ideas.”

One of these notebooks contained The Story of Nothing, which begins:

​Every book starts with nothing, but in this case Nothing is a boy. And this story is how Nothing turns into Something

For the award’s inaugural year, Mills and Laity will sit on the judging panel alongside Gayle Lazda from the London Review Bookshop and the acclaimed writer for both children and adults Katherine Rundell.

One of Martha’s favourite writers … Katherine Rundell.

UK-based writers between the ages of 11 and 14 are eligible, and may enter a piece of prose under 500 words. This can be anything from a piece of schoolwork or a diary entry to something purely imagined. The theme for 2023 is “The Stranger”, but applicants are encouraged to take this idea in any direction they like – the judges are looking for “the work that young writers are most proud of or excited about”.

The three winning entries will be announced on 17 June, when each winner will each be awarded £200 as well as a selection of books and a special souvenir. A selection of entries, including those of the three winners, will be included in a pamphlet, available at the London Review Bookshop. Submissions should be sent by email to [email protected] or by post to the London Review Bookshop by 22 May. For more information visit the LRB website .

“Martha loved reading and writing and took inspiration from her favourite authors – Katherine Rundell, Malorie Blackman, Philip Pullman and others,” her parents said. “We weren’t able to witness her grow as a reader and writer, but we hope the Martha Mills prize will inspire other young writers.”

The winners of the first Martha Mills Young Writers’ Prize will be announced on 17 June

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Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Young writers bring pride

Dr Ramchand Rampersad -


THE VALUE of literary skills and the creation of good writers should never be undervalued as they are representative of progressive nations. Today, I congratulate the Ministry of Education on successfully executing a project which started several months ago, involving primary and secondary schools throughout the nation.

The project would have demanded tremendous effort from different stakeholders, requiring several stages of planning, judging and selection. The outcome, a prize-giving function for the top students of the ministry’s essay writing competition, entitled “Celebrating 60”, which I had the privilege of attending.

I am sure this letter will disappoint many because readers usually seek articles that comply with the four Cs: contemporary, critical, contentious and controversial. In our culture, these are the narrative rhetoric that serve a writer’s objective of catching the readers’ attention and invoking a literary tone that keeps their interest.

A quick scroll through the popular social media handles – Facebook, YouTube, TikTok – reveals that such bacchanal-laden posts would receive much more likes, views, comments and thumbs-up than, say, words of positivity, a daily prayer, or a random act of kindness. Similarly, newspaper headlines hit the jackpot and talk show hosts ascend to popularity when they tackle cantankerous issues.

There are a few hot issues I could choose to write about: the Tobago love affair, the allegations of top-ranking officials’ involvement in human trafficking, or UWI staff withholding students’ grades due to unsettled wage negotiations.

Nonetheless, I believe that praise should be extended when it is due and today, none of those contentious matters tickles my writing fancy. Rather, my thoughts are loaded with the positive vibes I received from attending a function on March 3, hosted by the Ministry of Education: the prize-giving ceremony of the 60th Independence Anniversary Essay Competition for primary and secondary schools, which took place during 2022.

The invitees were based solely on merit of their relationship to the awardees. The function, though intentionally small in numbers, was well-organised and had tremendous positive impact on the successful students, their parents, teachers, peers and schools.

I must admit that although this competition was held sometime last year, I had no clue of my son’s (Saiesh) involvement, until a few days before the award ceremony. Saiesh forwarded a letter to me that came from the ministry via his school. It extended congratulations, informing us that he won the second prize in the Forms 4-6 category.

Now, some of you, in your usual cantankerous manner, may be inclined to conclude that I am using this space to highlight my son and to boast of his achievement. I would have to proudly admit that you are correct, and add that if you follow his accomplishments, you will understand that he is no stranger to success.

In the same breadth, I would also like to “big-up” his school, Presentation College, Chaguanas, for the guidance provided in preparing for this competition. Ironically, to my understanding, students were given this essay assignment as a mid-term test, unaware that it would have been used to represent the school in the national competition.

The importance of the event was stamped with the presence of two government ministers. Camille Robinson-Regis was introduced as the one who initiated the project, although she is the Minister of Housing and Urban Development. In delivering the feature address, she urged students to continue to strive to become great writers.

Lisa Morris-Julian, Minister in the Ministry of Education, in her address, playfully remarked that if she had the writing skills of the winning students, she would have opted for a career as an author rather than a politician.

Indeed, the programme took a celebrative tone as the ministers presented prizes of cheques, gift vouchers and certificates to the winners.

However, the most noticeable positive impact was the two ministers’ casual interactions with the students as they patiently took pictures with them, their teachers and parents. Even though Robinson-Regis announced that she had to attend Parliament at 1 pm, she displayed no sense of urgency to leave.

Forgivably, one would understand her reluctancy to leave to attend a somewhat less-celebratory parliamentary proceedings. The youngest winner, perhaps nine years old, requested that Robinson-Regis express to the prime minister how happy and proud she was to be part of the event. The minister willingly obliged to do so at 1 pm later that day.

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    Best Korean Authors 1. Min Jin Lee, 1968 - A photo of Min Jin Lee from the neck up. As a child of immigrants, Min Jin Lee spent many enjoyable hours at the Queens Library, learning English book by the book. After earning her degree at Yale University, Lee practiced law in New York City for two years before quitting to focus on writing.

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    Korea is home to many prolific writers, including those who write fiction, non-fiction, poetry, biographies and more. These are some of the best Korean writers that have ever lived, so if you're a native of Korea and an aspiring writer then use this list as inspiration to achieve your own writing goals.

  6. Writers from South Korea

    She won the Nojak Literary Award in 2005 and the Best Radio Writer Award from the Korean TV & Radio Writers Association in 2007. Currently, she is working for KBS as a writer while pursuing a master's degree in Korean literature at Korea University. ... South Korea) was awarded the Munhakdongne Young Writers Prize in 2011, then went on to win ...

  7. Category:South Korean writers

    Kim Chong Kwang. Kim Eun-jung (writer) Kim Hyong-o. Kim Jeong-hwan (poet) Kim Jong-ok. Kim Joo-young. Kim Jung-hyuk (author) Kim Jung-mi (writer) Kim Keum-hee.

  8. After K-Pop, K-Lit? Why Young Korean Writers Are Creating a Stir in

    Why Young Korean Writers Are Creating a Stir in Japanese Publishing | Nippon.com Latest In-depth Japan Data Guide Video/Live Japan Glances Images People Blog News Latest Stories Archives...

  9. Famous South Korean Writers

    Park Chan-wook (Korean: 박찬욱 Korean pronunciation: [pak̚t͡ɕʰanuk̚ ]; born August 23, 1963) is a South Korean film director, screenwriter, producer, and former film critic. One of the most acclaimed ...more Hong Sang-soo Age: 62 Birthplace: Seoul, South Korea Nationality: South Korea

  10. 10 Contemporary Books by Korean American Writers

    Caroline Kim was born in Busan, South Korea, but moved to America at a young age. Her collection of short stories, The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories, won the 2020 Drue Heinz Literature Prize and was published in October 2020.

  11. Kim Young-ha

    Young-ha Kim is a modern South Korean writer. [1] Life [ edit] Kim was born in Hwacheon on November 11, 1968. He moved from place to place as a child, since his father was in the military. As a child, he suffered from gas poisoning from coal gas and lost memory before ten. [2]

  12. South Korean literature has come of age, writes Man Booker winning

    One recent focus, particularly among very young writers, is on the politics of the "other", which includes admirably balanced, empathetic explorations of the North Korean refugee experience as ...

  13. List of American writers of Korean descent

    Korean American literature treats a wide range of topics including Korean life in America, the intersection of American and Korean culture in the lives of young Korean Americans, as well as life and history on the Korean peninsula.. To be included in this list, the person must have a Wikipedia article showing they are Korean American writers or must have references showing they are Korean ...

  14. For a wave of Korean American young adult novelists, Korean pop culture

    For a wave of Korean American young adult novelists, Korean pop culture is a touchstone K-drama and K-pop references have featured in several recent novels by Korean American young adult...

  15. 'A coldness that masks a burning rage': South Korea's female writers

    Four years after its original publication, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 has been translated into English. While Cho's focus is on South Korean culture, the normalisation of violence and harassment in ...

  16. 25 Must-Read Books by Asian and Asian American Authors

    1. A Splash of Excess in a Tasteful Fashion Week. 2. Hayley Williams Is Our March 2023 Music Director. 3. Why We're All Obsessed With '90s Beauty (Again) 4. Christina Sharpe Wrote Our Cultural ...

  17. Five authors of Korean thrillers you should be reading, by Paula Woods

    Hye-Young Pyun. (Hye-Young Pyun) Pyun is the first Korean native to have a short story published in the New Yorker. " Caring for Plants " became the seed for her allegorical novel, " The ...

  18. 12 Romantic Korean Young Adult Novels You Don't Want to Miss

    Check out the list below to get started, from some of the most popular romantic Korean young adult novels to the lesser-known books you won't want to miss. Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi No longer in the mundane routine of high school, Korean American Penny can hardly wait to escape to Austin, Texas, where she plans to train as a writer.

  19. The Heroine of This Korean Best Seller Is Extremely Ordinary. That's

    Decades earlier, groundbreaking authors such as Oh Jung-hee, Park Wan-suh and Park Kyongni won commercial and critical acclaim in Korea, despite initially being dismissed as "yeoryu jakga" or "lady...

  20. Gong Ji-young

    Gong Ji-young (Korean: 공지영; born 31 January 1963 in Seoul) is a South Korean novelist and journalist. Her popular novels are My Sister Bongsoon (2002), Our Happy Time (2005) and The Crucible (2009). She is considered a pioneer of Korean feminism.Since the mid 1990s, she has been considered one of the most eminent Korean female writers. She is gaining in popularity, especially among ...

  21. Martha Mills prize: new award for young writers launched by London

    The London Review Bookshop has launched a prize for "lively, unusual or otherwise original" writing by 11-14 year olds, offering young people the chance to have their work published.

  22. Young writers bring pride

    Young writers bring pride Newsday 23 Hrs Ago Dr Ramchand Rampersad - DR RAMCHAND RAMPERSAD. THE VALUE of literary skills and the creation of good writers should never be undervalued as they are representative of progressive nations. Today, I congratulate the Ministry of Education on successfully executing a project which started several months ...