A round-up of reviews of works in translation from Korean, including fiction, story collections, poetry and non-fiction. Click on the title for the review.
A moving work of exceptional scholarship, Gwangju Uprising: The Rebellion for Democracy in South Korea was commissioned in an era of rising fake news to combat false narratives that had become popular on the internet, not the least of which was the idea that the events of the Gwangju Uprising were sparked by North Korean spies and agents provocateurs.
The narrator of Kim Hye-jin’s Concerning My Daughter believes that “some things aren’t spoken out loud.” As she ages, she doesn’t want to discuss the lack of facilities willing to care for the elderly. And as a mother, she doesn’t want to talk about her adult daughter, who doesn’t have stable employment and is involved in a long-term relationship with a woman. She keeps quiet, ignoring the messiness of reality and guarding these thoughts in her head.
Set in a disturbing dystopia, Saha, Korean author Cho Nam-joo’s latest work following the wildly successful Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, tells the story of the bottom rung of a dark society.
Lee Geum-yi has published more than fifty books in her native South Korea, many of which have been adapted to film and stage, as well as into a number of languages. But it’s only now that one has been translated into English. That book is The Picture Bride, a story set mainly in a Korean enclave on Hawai’i in the 1910s. Lee’s stories often involve little-told pieces of history and The Picture Bride is no exception.
One of Korea’s most renowned 20th century authors, Pak Kyongni often wrote stories set in the aftermath of the war and during the several military dictatorships. Pak passed away in 2008, but her work has been revived in English with a recent collection in translation, The Age of Doubt. These seven stories are all set in the 1950s and ’60s, a far cry from the glitz and glamor of modern-day Seoul. Each of the seven stories, furthermore, is translated by a different translator. While the stories differ, and not just in translator, a similar sense of darkness pervades all of them.
On the morning of his 43rd birthday, celebrated artist Lee Hanjo wakes up hungover and alone. His loving devoted wife is gone, only leaving behind the draft of a novel. To Hanjo’s horror, the book tells the story of an artist in his early 40s and his affair with a possibly underage girl. This manuscript will ruin him, but his mind is drawn back to a summer years before when the death of another girl changed his life.