White Chrysanthemum memorializes Korean comfort women—women forced into sexual slavery by Japanese occupying forces during World War Two. In her debut novel, London-based Korean-American writer Mary Lynn Bracht explores the effects of these women’s abductions on their families and on wider society, and celebrates the power of women to survive horrific circumstances.
Can the present save the past? Can the living save the dead? As South Korean author Han Kang revealed in a 2016 interview with the London-based magazine The White Review, these questions interested her during her twenties, only to resurface years later when drafting her novel Human Acts about the 1980 Gwangju Uprising and its aftermath. And they continue to resonate in her writing as evidenced by her most recent work The White Book.
As contemporary Korean literature receives increasing acclaim in English-language circles—Han Kang’s The Vegetarian won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize—it is perhaps inevitable that efforts are being made to introduce older Korean classics to the English language mainstream. One of of these is Sweet Potato, a newly-translated volume of short stories by Kim Tongin (or Kim Dong-in) written mostly in the Japanese colonial period between the Wars.
South Korea was not always the prosperous, democratic country it is now. Just a few decades ago in the late seventies, it was relatively poor and ruled by a harsh authoritarian regime desperate to catch up with the West while cracking down on any form of public dissent. This is the turbulent backdrop against which Everything Belongs to Us by Yoojin Grace Wuertz takes place.
“Bandi” is Korean for “firefly”. It is the pseudonym chosen by the writer of the seven short stories and two poems now gathered in The Accusation, translated into English by Deborah Smith.
The burdens of immigrant life in Japan provide the meat of Min Jin Lee’s new novel Pachinko. Spanning five generations, Pachinko is the arresting tale of a Korean family which emigrated to Japan and is a welcome and timely publication dealing with the fraughtness of colonial and immigrant experiences. Although such scope might make one think of a sprawling, Tolstoyean narrative, Lee maintains a taut, narrow focus, unraveling the uniqueness of her characters while providing a deeply satisfying attention to detail.
Marlene Dietrich famously sang of still having a suitcase in Berlin, a wistful testament to the evocative power of memory and the hold that people and places can have on us. In many ways the unnamed Korean female narrator in Bae Suah’s novella A Greater Music has left her own suitcase in the German capital, one packed with scraps of memories from a broken intimate relationship with an older German woman and the morning-after emotions that surface when reflecting on a life lived elsewhere.