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Korean Literature | Where to Start


A selection of book recommendations translated from Korean




Here it is - my Korean literature book recs! I don't have as many titles, but I hope my collection will grow. A few of these will overlap with my Women in Translation post, but this theme was highly requested on my Instagram. If you like language genre recs, I also have a post on Japanese Literature


I found a list on GoodReads for recs that are either translated from Korean or featuring Korean life - the link is below





Whale by Cheon Myeong-Kwan


Translated by Chi-Young Kim


Literary Fic | Historical Fic | Magical Realism


This was a book I was mainly drawn to because of the cover; it just really appealed to me. The writing style was very eloquently done and had me hooked from the first chapter. This is more of a character-driven story - each one very unique and thoughtfully developed. I felt very attached to the character Chunhui; it felt really vexing following her life. I'm left with more complicated thoughts about the character Geumbok. There were moments where you went from being invested to having a kind of resignation towards her due to her treatment towards Chunhui. It's very cool when an author can get their reader to feel so attached to their characters; we shouldn't underestimate how difficult that is to bring through in writing.


This isn't a lighthearted read, but if you're someone who appreciates slow-paced books, this one is definitely one to add to your TBR.


Synopsis:


In a remote village in South Korea, we follow the lives of three linked characters and their relationship with the landscape and events unfolding around them.




I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Tteokbokki by Baek Sehee


Translated by Anton Hur


Mental Health | Contemporary | Memoir


This is a very candid and honest reflection of an individual processing their mental health struggles. I give a lot of credit to Baek Sehee because recording her dialogues with her psychiatrist puts her in a very vulnerable position. It's not an easy thing to do at all, but I think Baek did a great job of bringing to light a lot of thoughts we're confronted with, but not always voice. It makes you feel less alone when you realise other people have similar experiences.


Furthermore, it's a very easy read, in that the whole book is primarily a dialogue between Baek and her psychiatrist, so it feels very informal and natural. An honest self-reflection that would be a valuable contribution to your TBR.


Synopsis:


Over a twelve-week period, Baek records her dialogues with her psychiatrist. Through the pages, she begins to digest and process the feedback, to try to develop a better relationship with herself.




The Old Woman with the Knife by Gu Byeong-Mo


Translated by Chi-Young Kim


Thriller | Mystery | Crime


This is more of a light-hearted vibe than the first two recommendations. Thrillers are always going to be my go-to genre, so when I found this book, it was a no-brainer to pick up. The whole concept of the book is really fun and unique - quite fast-paced and more of a plot-driven novel.


Personally, the direction of this book was slightly predictable, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it was a cool read. It's a great book to pick up and curl up with a nice cosy blanket. The protagonist, Hornclaw, was very likeable and I did find myself rooting for her. It's 100% worth checking out if you are a thriller fan.


Synopsis:


Hornclaw is a 65-year-old female contract killer who is considering retirement. But when a job goes wrong, her long-term plans fall apart. Threatened with sabotage from a young upstart, Hornclaw has no choice but to postpone her retirement plans...



Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung


Translated by Anton Hur


Short Stories | Horror | Magical Realism


This is a fab collection of creepy stories for horror fans. Each story is as disturbing and unsettling as the last. The first one, The Head, genuinely made me feel uncomfortable. I think it's super cool how words alone can really immerse the reader and leave them feel on edge. Personally, I wouldn't recommend reading this one late at night if you get creeped out easily - save this for when you're on your daily commute! After reading The Head, I was left thinking, 'what on earth am I reading?'. You can't deny the originality behind these short stories. It's worth saving this one for October if you're more of a seasonal reader. Overall, I thought this was a fun, creepy and unique read. I'm definitely up for reading more of Chung's work in the future.


Synopsis:


This is a collection of short horror stories - the dark, the magical, and the disturbing...




Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo


Translated by Jamie Chang


Feminism | Literary Fic | Contemporary


I remember reading this book when I was in my second year of university and being absolutely blown away by it. It's also a relatively short book (under 200 pages), so it's ideal for those who are in a reading slump. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is an eloquent and powerful commentary of the misogynist assumptions women deal with on a daily basis. It's a valuable piece of literature that everyone should read at least once. I'm sure there are many women who would all find something relatable in the protagonist's narrative. It's awesome how in such a short book, the author unpacks so many important discussions, from institutional oppression to everyday sexism.


I have a whole separate post on feminist book recs if you are interested in reading more about the topic.


Synopsis:


This book explores a woman's everyday's encounters with misogyny. She is always ignored, dismissed, and patronised - especially when she starts to voice her own mind.



The Vegetarian by Han Kang


Translated by Deborah Smith


Lit Fic | Contemporary | Horror


This is another relatively short read for those who prefer smaller books. I would put this in a similar category of Cursed Bunny, however, it's more of a subtle kind of horror. The writing isn't deliberately trying to scare you, but the tone of the book is quite eerie. I feel like books by Han Kang are pretty high on Korean book recs. The only other title I've read by this author was Human Acts, but out of the two, I personally enjoyed The Vegetarian more. I really enjoyed the writing style of this one - the concept seems so innocent and mundane, but Kang manages to turn it into something more.


Synopsis:


When Yeong-hye experiences a blood-soaked nightmare, she decides to cleanse her mind by removing meat from her diet. Her sudden vegetarianism is viewed as an act of defiance - a challenge to societal norms.


 

This is a very short list of Korean book recs, so I would love to hear more recommendations. The more I read, the more I'll add to this list so hopefully it will grow soon.


You can stay up to date with my current reads and reviews on my Instagram





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