South Korea might be a wealthy nation with some of the world’s most well-known tech firms and pop culture, but its success did not occur overnight or without considerable hardship. Covering everything from war, elections, coups, uprisings, global conglomerates, a football World Cup, Olympics and K-Pop, Ramon Pacheco Pardo’s Shrimp to Whale is a brisk modern history of the East Asian nation’s tumultuous rise from the ashes of colonialism, war, and poverty in the 20th century.

Surrounded by much larger powers throughout its history, Korea is often overlooked by regional experts and observers. But despite being located between and having had to fend off at various periods China and Japan, and even the Mongols, Korea has managed to endure, albeit split into two nations in the modern era. Eugene Y Park’s Korea is a sweeping and comprehensive take on the Koreans’ resilient and fascinating history, culture, and politics. 

In a year when the world is being seriously beleaguered by a never-ending pandemic, conflicts, economic recessions, and natural disasters, Adrift by French-Lebanese author Amin Maalouf seems an appropriate read. Focusing on the Middle East, especially the unravelling of the author’s native Lebanon, Maalouf attempts to explain how the world has become the way it is now through a set of interconnected crises.

Ten years ago, a spate of suicides at Foxconn’s factories in Shenzhen thrust the company into global headlines. These workers, part of a million-strong workforce, were involved in making Apple’s iPhone, the world’s premier status symbol smartphone. While the suicides are now mainly in the past, the issues raised in Dying for an iPhone remain pertinent to China’s labor situation and global manufacturing generally.

On a map, Taiwan does not seem very remarkable as a small island off the coast of China. But despite being smaller than the Netherlands and neighboring countries, Taiwan features Northeast Asia’s highest mountains and a rich biodiversity. In Two Trees Make A Forest: In Search of My Family’s Past Among Taiwan’s Mountains and Coasts, Jessica J Lee explores this natural landscape, while tracing her family heritage and history. 

It’s a sign of the times that this novel about Hong Kong’s June 4th vigils, Chinese dissidents, and village protests seems almost quaint compared with recent real-life events. In the same way, Chinese Spring is an apt story. While Hong Kong has endured weekly protests, police clashes and mass triad attacks over the past two months, the underlying reason is fear of the Chinese authorities and their legal system. This is also what the protagonists in Christopher’s new novel confront.