10 KOREAN BOOKS IN TRANSLATION


hi everyone!! I don’t know what brought this on but I’ve been so into Korean fiction this year. I’ve read some really amazing translated Korean fiction lately, and so have been trying to find more Korean books in translation to read. with that being said, I thought I’d share some of the ones I’ve managed to find so far that have sounded really interesting to me and, hopefully, to you as well.

the list includes graphic novels, short story collections, and novels, and with the exception of two books (which I’ve noted), all of the books are already released!


Moms by Yeong-shin Ma (tr. Janet Hong)

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An outrageously funny book about middle-aged women that reexamines romance, lust, and gender norms

Lee Soyeon, Myeong-ok, and Yeonjeong are all mothers in their mid-fifties. And they’ve had it. They can no longer bear the dead weight of their partners or the endless grind of menial jobs where their bosses control everything, down to how much water they can drink. Although Lee Soyeon divorced her husband years ago after his gambling drove their family into bankruptcy, she finds herself in another tired and dishonest decade-long relationship with Jongseok, a slimy waiter at a nightclub. Meanwhile, Myeong-ok is having an illicit affair with a younger man, and Yeonjeong, whose husband suffers from erectile dysfunction, has her eye on an acquaintance from the gym. Bored with conventional romantic dalliances, these women embrace outrageous sexual adventures and mishaps, ending up in nightclubs, motels, and even the occasional back-alley brawl.

With this boisterous and darkly funny manhwa, Yeong-shin Ma defies the norms of the traditional Korean family narrative, offering instead the refreshingly honest and unfiltered story of a group of middle-aged moms who yearn for something more than what the mediocre men in their lives can provide. Despite their less-than-desirable jobs, salaries, husbands, and boyfriends, these women brazenly bulldoze their way through life with the sexual vulnerability and lust typically attributed to twenty-somethings.


Umma’s Table by Yeok-Sik Hong (tr. Janet Hong)

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The joy of food and tradition unites a family faltering in the face of illness and loss

Madang is an artist and new father who moves to a quiet home in the countryside with his wife and young baby, excited to build a new life full of hope and joy, complete with a garden and even snow. But soon reality sets in and his attention is divided between his growing happy family and his impoverished parents back in Seoul in a dingy basement apartment. With an ailing mother in and out of the hospital and an alcoholic father, Madang struggles to overcome the exhaustion and frustration of trying to be everything all at once: a good son, devoted father, and loving husband.

To cope, he finds himself reminiscing about their family meals together, particularly his mother’s kimchi, a traditional dish that is prepared by the family and requires months of fermentation. Memories of his mother’s glorious cooking—so good it would prompt a young Madang and his brother into song—soothe the family. With her impending death, Madang races to learn her recipes and bring together the three generations at the family table while it’s still possible. This is a beautiful and thoughtful meditation on how the kitchen and communal cooking—in the past, present, and future—bind a family together amidst the inevitable.


Uncomfortably Happily by Yeok-Sik Hong (tr. Hellen Jo)

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Inspired by Yeon-sik Hong’s attempt to move to the country with his partner, Uncomfortably, Happily is the story of a young couple finding their way. Burdened by unmet comics deadlines and high rent, our narrator and his wife know they must make a change. Convinced the absence of traffic noise will ease his writer’s block, our pair welcomes the idea of building a life from scratch. Deciding on a home atop an uninhabited mountain, they excitedly embrace the charms of their new rural existence.

From tending to the land and attempting grocery runs through snow, to the complexities of fighting depression in seclusion, the move does not immediately prove to be the golden ticket they’d hoped for, and the silence of the mountain poses as much of an obstacle to output as the sirens of the city. Through it all, though, we see simple pleasures seep in and gain prominence over these commercial, and, often, comparatively trivial worries: the smell of the forest, the calming weight of enveloping snow, and the gratification of a stripped down life making art begin to muffle other concerns.

Originally published in Korean to great acclaim and winning the Manhwa Today award, Uncomfortably, Happily uniquely explores our narrator’s inner world. Hong propels the comic with gorgeously detailed yet simple art, sharing the story of two lives unfolding slowly, sometimes uncomfortably, yet ultimately, happily.


The Court Dancer by Kyung-sook Shin (tr. Anton Hur)

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Based on a remarkable true story, the New York Times bestselling author of Please Look After Mom brilliantly images the life of Yi Jin, an orphan who would fall under the affections of the Empress and become a jewel in the late Joseon Court.

When a novice French diplomat arrives for an audience with the Emperor, he is enraptured by the Joseon Dynasty’s magnificent culture, then at its zenith. But all fades away when he sees Yi Jin perform the delicate traditional Dance of the Spring Oriole. Though well aware that women of the court belong to the palace, the young diplomat confesses his love to the Emperor, and gains permission for Yi Jin to accompany him back to France.

A world away in Belle Epoque Paris, Yi Jin lives a free, independent life, away from the gilded cage of the court, and begins translating and publishing Joseon literature into French with another Korean student. But even in this new world, great sorrow awaits her. Yi Jin’s grieving and suffering is only amplified by homesickness and a longing for her oldest friend. But her homecoming was not a happy one. Betrayal, jealousy, and intrigue abound, culminating with the tragic assassination of the last Joseon empress—and the poisoned pages of a book.

Rich with historic detail and filled with luminous characters, Korea’s most beloved novelist brings a lost era to life in a story that will resonate long after the final page. 


Lonesome You by Park Wan-Suh (tr. Elizabeth Haejin Yoon)

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Well before her death in 2011, Park Wan-Suh had established herself as a canonical figure in Korean literature. Her work–often based upon her own personal experiences, and showing keen insight into divisive social issues from the Korean partition to the position of women in Korean society–has touched readers for over forty years. In this collection, meditations upon life in old age come to the fore–at its best, accompanied by great beauty and compassion; at its worst by a cynicism that nonetheless turns a bitter smile upon the changing world. 


The Cabinet by Un-su Kim (tr. Sean Lin Halbert)

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A mind-bending work of literary fiction from one of South Korea’s hottest new novelists.

Cabinet 13 looks like an old, ordinary cabinet. But it is filled with stories – peculiar, strange, eye popping, disgusting, enraging, and touching stories. The life of the man who manages cabinet 13, an ordinary office manager, is similarly filled with stories. Un-Su Kim intricately interweaves the all these stories with precise prose and in rich style, and will leave you thinking about the stories inside your own cabinet long after you turn the final page.

This one isn’t out till October 12.


Table For One by Yun Ko-eun (tr. Lizzie Buehler)

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An office worker who has no one to eat lunch with enrolls in a course that builds confidence about eating alone. A man with a pathological fear of bedbugs offers up his body to save his building from infestation. A time capsule in Seoul is dug up hundreds of years before it was intended to be unearthed. A vending machine repairman finds himself trapped in a shrinking motel during a never-ending snowstorm.

In these and other indelible short stories, contemporary South Korean author Yun Ko-eun conjures up slightly off-kilter worlds tucked away in the corners of everyday life. Her fiction is bursting with images that toe the line between realism and the fantastic. Throughout Table for One, comedy and an element of the surreal are interwoven with the hopelessness and loneliness that pervades the protagonists’ decidedly mundane lives. Yun’s stories focus on solitary city dwellers, and her eccentric, often dreamlike humor highlights their sense of isolation. Mixing quirky and melancholy commentary on densely packed urban life, she calls attention to the toll of rapid industrialization and the displacement of traditional culture. Acquainting the English-speaking audience with one of South Korea’s breakout young writers, Table for One presents a parade of misfortunes that speak to all readers in their unconventional universality.

PS: this one isn’t out till January 4, 2022 but I still wanted to include it!


To the Warm Horizon by Choi Jin-Young (tr. Soje)

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A group of Koreans are making their way across a disease-ravaged landscape—but to what end? To the Warm Horizon shows how in a post-apocalyptic world, humans will still seek purpose, kinship, and even intimacy. Focusing on two young women, Jina and Dori, who find love against all odds, Choi Jin-young creates a dystopia where people are trying to find direction after having their worlds turned upside down.

Lucidly translated from the Korean by Soje, this thoughtful yet gripping novel takes the reader on a journey through how people adjust, or fail to adjust, to catastrophe. 


The Impossible Fairytale by Han Yujoo (tr. Janet Hong)

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The Impossible Fairytale tells the story of the nameless ‘Child’, who struggles to make a mark on the world, and her classmate Mia, whose spoiled life is everything the Child’s is not.

At school, adults are nearly invisible, and the society the children create on their own is marked by soul-crushing hierarchies and an underlying menace. Then, one day after hours, the Child sneaks into the classroom to add ominous sentences to her classmates’ notebooks, setting in motion a series of cataclysmic events.


I’ll Go On by Hwang Jungeun (tr. Emily Yae Won)

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From one of South Korea’s most acclaimed young authors comes the story of two sisters, Sora and Nana. When Sora was ten years old, and Nana was nine, their father died in a freak accident at the factory where he worked, his body sucked under a huge cogwheel, crushed beyond recognition. Their mother Aeja, numb with grief, gives in to torpor, developing an unhealthy obsession with the paradoxical violence implicit in life.

Now adults, Sora finds herself dreaming of the past when she discovers that Nana is pregnant. Her initial reaction is shock – though they live together, she never even realised her younger sister had a lover – and Nana’s icy response to her attempt at being considerate (‘You hate this, so don’t pretend like I’m some poor pregnant woman you have to pity’) drives a wedge between the two. Can Naghi – the boy who shared their childhood, and the simple, nourishing meals cooked by his mother – help the sisters break free of Aeja’s worldview in which life is ultimately futile and love is always doomed?

A delicate stylist with an unflinching social gaze, in I’ll Go On Hwang Jungeun has crafted a poignant novel with an uncanny ear for the unspoken secrets and heartaches buried beneath daily life and family ritual. Above all, it is a stunning exploration of the intensity of early bonds – and the traces they leave on us as we grow up.


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10 SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS BY AUTHORS OF COLOUR

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#1: Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone by Sequoia Nagamatsu

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“You should be here; he’s simply magnificent.” These are the final words a biologist hears before his Margaret Mead-like wife dies at the hands of Godzilla. The words haunt him as he studies the Kaiju (Japan’s giant monsters) on an island reserve, attempting to understand the beauty his wife saw.

“The Return to Monsterland” opens ‘Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone,’ a collection of twelve fabulist and genre-bending stories inspired by Japanese folklore, historical events, and pop culture. In “Rokurokubi”, a man who has the demonic ability to stretch his neck to incredible lengths tries to save a marriage built on secrets. The recently dead find their footing in “The Inn of the Dead’s Orientation for Being a Japanese Ghost”. In “Girl Zero”, a couple navigates the complexities of reviving their deceased daughter via the help of a shapeshifter. And, in the title story, a woman instigates a months-long dancing frenzy in a Tokyo where people don’t die but are simply reborn without their memories.

Every story in the collection turns to the fantastic, the mysticism of the past, and the absurdities of the future to illuminate the spaces we occupy when we, as individuals and as a society, are at our most vulnerable.


#2: Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson

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A stunning new talent in literary fiction, Nafissa Thompson-Spires grapples with black identity and the contemporary middle class in these compelling, boundary-pushing vignettes.

Each captivating story plunges headfirst into the lives of new, utterly original characters. Some are darkly humorous—from two mothers exchanging snide remarks through notes in their kids’ backpacks, to the young girl contemplating how best to notify her Facebook friends of her impending suicide—while others are devastatingly poignant—a new mother and funeral singer who is driven to madness with grief for the young black boys who have fallen victim to gun violence, or the teen who struggles between her upper middle class upbringing and her desire to fully connect with black culture.

Thompson-Spires fearlessly shines a light on the simmering tensions and precariousness of black citizenship. Her stories are exquisitely rendered, satirical, and captivating in turn, engaging in the ongoing conversations about race and identity politics, as well as the vulnerability of the black body. Boldly resisting categorization and easy answers, Nafissa Thompson-Spires is an original and necessary voice in contemporary fiction.


#3: A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley

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In the nine expansive, searching stories of A Lucky Man, fathers and sons attempt to salvage relationships with friends and family members and confront mistakes made in the past. An imaginative young boy from the Bronx goes swimming with his group from day camp at a backyard pool in the suburbs, and faces the effects of power and privilege in ways he can barely grasp. A teen intent on proving himself a man through the all-night revel of J’Ouvert can’t help but look out for his impressionable younger brother. A pair of college boys on the prowl follow two girls home from a party and have to own the uncomfortable truth of their desires. And at a capoeira conference, two brothers grapple with how to tell the story of their family, caught in the dance of their painful, fractured history.

Jamel Brinkley’s stories, in a debut that announces the arrival of a significant new voice, reflect the tenderness and vulnerability of black men and boys whose hopes sometimes betray them, especially in a world shaped by race, gender, and class—where luck may be the greatest fiction of all.


#4: Supporting Cast by Kit De Waal

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As she walks out of her marriage, a woman remembers a day by the sea when her husband rescued a boy from drowning.

A blind man on his wedding day celebrates the pursuit of love.
A woman finds companionship for the first time with the girls at work.
And a young man leaves prison with only one desire – to see his son again.

Kit de Waal’s characters light up the page in vivid stories of thwarted desire, love and loss. With power and precision, humanity and insight, Supporting Cast captures the extraordinary moments in our ordinary lives, and the darkness and the joy of the everyday.


#5: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

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Navigating between the Indian traditions they’ve inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri’s elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations. In “A Temporary Matter,” published in The New Yorker, a young Indian-American couple faces the heartbreak of a stillborn birth while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout. In the title story, an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors and hears an astonishing confession. Lahiri writes with deft cultural insight reminiscent of Anita Desai and a nuanced depth that recalls Mavis Gallant.


#6: Flowers of Mold by Ha Seong-Nan

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Praised for her meticulous descriptions and ability to transform the mundanity of everyday life into something strange and unexpected, Ha Seong-nan bursts into the English literary scene with this stunning collection that confirms Korea’s place at the forefront of contemporary women’s writing. From the title story told by a woman suffering from gaps in her memory, to one about a man seeking insight in bags of garbage, to a surreal story about a car salesman and the customer he tries to seduce, The Woman Next Door charms and provokes with an incomparable style.


#7: Last of Her Name by Mimi Lok

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Mimi Lok’s Last of Her Name is an eye-opening story collection about the intimate, interconnected lives of diasporic women and the histories they are born into. Set in a wide range of time periods and locales, including ’80s UK suburbia, WWII Hong Kong and contemporary urban California, the book features an eclectic cast of outsiders: among them, an elderly housebreaker, wounded lovers and kung-fu fighting teenage girls. Last of Her Name offers a meditation on female desire and resilience, family and the nature of memory.


#8: If You See Me Don’t Say Hi by Neel Patel

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If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi examines the collisions of old world and new world, small town and big city, traditional beliefs (like arranged marriage) and modern rituals (like Facebook stalking). The men and women in these stories are full of passion, regret, envy, anger, and yearning. They fall in love with the wrong people and betray one another and deal with the accumulation of years of subtle racism. They are utterly compelling. Ranging across the country, Patel’s stories — empathetic, provocative, twisting, and wryly funny — introduce a bold new literary voice, one that feels more timely than ever.


#9: Alligator & Other Stories by Dima Alzayat

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Alzayat’s stories are rich and relatable, chronicling a sense of displacement through everyday scenarios. There is the intern in pre-#MeToo Hollywood of “Only Those Who Struggle Succeed,” the New York City children on the lookout for a place to play on the heels of Etan Patz’s kidnapping in “Disappearance,” and the “dangerous” women of “Daughters of Manāt” who struggle to assert their independence.

The title story, “Alligator,” is a masterpiece of historical reconstruction and intergenerational trauma, told in an epistolary format through social media posts, newspaper clippings, and testimonials, that starts with the true story of the lynching of a Syrian immigrant couple by law officers in small-town Florida. Placed in a wider context of U.S. racial violence, the extrajudicial deaths, and what happens to the couple’s children and their children’s children in the years after, challenges the demands of American assimilation and its limits.

Alligator and Other Stories is haunting, spellbinding, and unforgettable, while marking Dima Alzayat’s arrival as a tremendously gifted new talent.


#10: Elsewhere, Home by Leila Aboulela

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Since her award-winning debut novel, Minaret, Leila Aboulela has been praised by J.M. Coetzee, Ali Smith, Aminatta Forna, and Anthony Marra among others for her rich and nuanced depictions of Islamic spiritual and political life. Her latest collection, Elsewhere, Home, draws us ineluctably into the lives of immigrants at home and abroad as they forge new identities and reshape old ones.

Shuttling between the dusty, sun-baked streets of Khartoum and the university halls and cramped apartments of Aberdeen and London, Elsewhere, Home explores, with subtlety and restraint, the profound feelings of yearning, loss, and alienation that come with leaving one’s homeland in pursuit of a different life.


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#NonFictionNovember: MEMOIR/ESSAY RECOMMENDATIONS


hello everyone!! it’s officially NON-FICTION NOVEMBER and im so excited to share some of my fav non-fiction books with you this month!! non-fiction november is a month-long readathon hosted by Olive from A Book Olive on YouTube as well as (this year) co-hosted by Sabrina from Steakuccino, Natalie from Curious Reader, Jill from The Book Bully, and Andreea from Infinite Text

this week im recommending some of memoirs and essay collections that ive really enjoyed!! as per usual, ive included samples of their audiobooks where i could so you can get a sense of how the authors narrate their books.


MEMOIRS:

Inventory by Darran Anderson

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(my review)

Inventory, Darran Anderson’s searing yet tender memoir, is an interwoven tale of political conflict, trauma, history, family, and resistance. With great rhythm, humor, and sometimes painful detail, Anderson tells the story of his city and family through the objects and memories that define them.

Growing up in Derry, Northern Ireland, amid the unspeakable violence of the Troubles, Anderson was accustomed to poverty and fracture. Avoiding British soldiers, IRA operatives, unexploded bombs, and stray bullets, he and his friends explored their hometown with boundless imagination and innocence despite their dire circumstances. But his parents and extended family, Catholics living in Protestant-controlled Northern Ireland, could not evade the persecution. His father joined the IRA, spent time in prison, and yearned to escape the hellish reality of the Troubles.

Throughout his inventive, evocative memoir, Anderson chronicles the history of Derry’s evolution from an island backwater to a crucial Allied naval base during World War II, and the diverging paths of his two grandfathers in the wake of the American military’s arrival: one, an alcoholic army deserter, drowns in the legendary River Foyle—the river that will take the life of the grandfather’s wife years later—while the other, a smuggler, lives off the river, retrieving the bodies of the drowned.

Fifteen years after leaving Derry, Anderson returns to confront the past and its legacy when yet another family member goes missing in the Foyle. In Inventory, his gripping attempt to see who, or what, he can salvage from history’s shadows, Anderson creates “a presence in the shape of an absence,” unearthing the buried fates of family, country, and self.


Good Talk by Mira Jacob

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Mira Jacob’s touching, often humorous, and utterly unique graphic memoir takes readers on her journey as a first-generation American. At an increasingly fraught time for immigrants and their families, Good Talk delves into the difficult conversations about race, sex, love, and family that seem to be unavoidable these days.

Inspired by her popular BuzzFeed piece “37 Difficult Questions from My Mixed-Raced Son,” here are Jacob’s responses to her six-year-old, Zakir, who asks if the new president hates brown boys like him; uncomfortable relationship advice from her parents, who came to the United States from India one month into their arranged marriage; and the imaginary therapy sessions she has with celebrities from Bill Murray to Madonna. Jacob also investigates her own past, from her memories of being the only non-white fifth grader to win a Daughters of the American Revolution essay contest to how it felt to be a brown-skinned New Yorker on 9/11. As earnest and moving as they are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, these are the stories that have formed one American life. 


I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib

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Malaka’s upbringing will look familiar to anyone who grew up in the pre-internet era, but her particular story is a heartfelt tribute to the American immigrants who have invested their future in the promise of the American dream.

The daughter of parents with unfulfilled dreams themselves, Malaka navigates her childhood chasing her parents’ ideals, learning to code-switch between her family’s Filipino and Egyptian customs, adapting to white culture to fit in, crushing on skater boys, and trying to understand the tension between holding onto cultural values and trying to be an all-American kid.

I Was Their American Dream is at once a journal of growing up and a reminder of the thousands of immigrants who come to America in search for a better life for themselves and their children. 


ESSAYS:

Of Color by Jaswinder Bolina

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In his debut essay collection, award-winning poet Jaswinder Bolina meditates on “how race,” as he puts it, “becomes metaphysical” the cumulative toll of the microaggressions and macro-pressures lurking in the academic market, on the literary circuit, in the dating pool, and on the sidewalks of any given U.S. city. Training a keenly thoughtful lens on questions that are never fully abstract—about immigration and assimilation and class, about the political utility of art, about what it means to belong to a language and a nation that brand you as other—Of Color is a bold, expansive, and finally optimistic diagnosis of present-day America.


How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee

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How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is the author’s manifesto on the entangling of life, literature, and politics, and how the lessons learned from a life spent reading and writing fiction have changed him. In these essays, he grows from student to teacher, reader to writer, and reckons with his identities as a son, a gay man, a Korean American, an artist, an activist, a lover, and a friend. He examines some of the most formative experiences of his life and the nation’s history, including his father’s death, the AIDS crisis, 9/11, the jobs that supported his writing—Tarot-reading, bookselling, cater-waiting for William F. Buckley—the writing of his first novel, Edinburgh, and the election of Donald Trump.

By turns commanding, heartbreaking, and wry, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel asks questions about how we create ourselves in life and in art, and how to fight when our dearest truths are under attack.


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