Korea was a unified, homogeneous country from the seventh century CE until 1945 when in the wake of the Second World War it was partitioned by the United States and the Soviet Union and formally became two separate states in 1948. Since that time, writes James Madison University history professor Michael J Seth, Korea has been a nation divided into vastly different social systems and “perpetually at war” with itself. Seth’s new book Korea at War attempts to describe and explain this geopolitical transformation.  

Tales of love, loss and survival set in the war-torn Korea of the 20th century are cleverly linked in the life of one female “trickster” in this debut novel from South Korean writer Mirinae Lee. Seven individual stories are connected through the device of an elderly lady, Mrs Mook, recounting her experiences. Listening carefully is Lee Sae-ri, a middle-aged divorcee who works at the Golden Sunset retirement home where Mrs Mook lives. In a bid to ease the residents through their final years, Lee Sae-ri has taken it upon herself to write their “obituaries” by recording their personal histories. 

In 1960, the Soviet Union founded a university in Moscow—soon to be called the Patrice Lumumba University—with the aim of educating students from newly independent states, many of whom came from African countries. Now called the People’s Friendship University of Russia, the university has a famous list of alumni including former heads of state of Central American and African countries, among others. But the Soviet Union wasn’t the only socialist place to offer educational opportunities to students in the developing world. Cuba, China, and North Korea also did and it’s the last that forms the subject of Monica Macias’s new memoir, Black Girl From Pyongyang: In Search of My Identity.