A short story is an unlikely review subject, but “Person of Korea” has several things going for it: first, it’s by Paul Yoon and in its detached observational style is illustrative of the author’s other work. Second, it’s set among the Korean diaspora in the Russia Far East; although the Russian Far East has begun to feature in an increasing amount of fiction, the only other work with this particular combination that comes to mind is Jeff Talarigo’s The Ginseng Hunter. And third, it’s available online at The Atlantic.
Many cultures under, or in the shadow of, an empire sometimes make use of that empire’s language to express themselves. Latin was used throughout Europe, while for a couple of centuries after the Norman conquest, the dominant written language in England was French. China exerted a similar cultural pull over its neighbors: Japanese poets would write kanshi and Koreans hansi, both terms being probably derived from the word Han, referring to the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) in China. For both, using written Chinese was to make a cultural statement, indicating that these writings were for an elite class of people. Furthermore, despite the invention of hangul, an optimized Korean script, by king Sejong in the 15th century, classical Chinese—both the language and the script—remained the preference of Korean literati for several centuries. Hangul did not in fact hit its stride until well into the 19th century; and, given their acute sense of class-consciousness, Koreans may simply have felt more comfortable reading their stories in classical Chinese.
The volcanic Jeju Island is now a popular honeymoon destination in South Korea, but has a darker history that has only relatively recently begun to be openly discussed: a little over seventy years ago it was the scene of a massacre. Residents of Jeju had been some of the most ardent resisters of Japanese rule and supporters of an independent Korea. In April 1948, violence broke out when the regime in Seoul started an anti-communist purge in Jeju. In The Mermaid from Jeju, Sumi Hahn has written a novel centered around the massacre and a community of haenyeo, or female deep-sea pearl divers who begin their work as young as age eleven.
Some years back, graphic novelist Keum Suk Gendry-Kim interviewed an elderly Korean woman named Lee Ok-sun. Gendry-Kim hoped to learn about social class and gender disparity during World War II and write a book about this subject. But after several interviews, Gendry-Kim realized Lee’s personal story warranted a book of its own. The result is Grass, a graphic novel now out in an English translation by Janet Hong.
Caroline Kim’s debut short-story collection The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories grew out of an identity crisis she suffered some fifteen years ago. How would her life have differed had her parents not left South Korea for the US? Would she look different and like different things than her Korean-American self? And what does it even mean to “be Korean”?
Union General William Tecumseh Sherman remarked during the American Civil War: “War is cruelty. You cannot refine it.” In Ghost Flames, former Associated Press (AP) reporter Charles J Hanley writes about the cruelty of the Korean War—and the impacts it had on some ordinary soldiers, civilians, and even some military commanders.
Korean American K-pop star Jessica Jung may have gotten her start as a singer and performer with the hit band Girls’ Generation, but now also has a fashion line and has modeled for make-up lines and magazine covers around the world. Her branding is reaching into film and television. And now she has a debut young adult novel, Shine.