South Korean literature has come of age, writes Man Booker winning translator

Young writers are addressing themes that chime with readers in a globalised world, and doing so in extraordinarily imaginative ways – a break with the narrow intellectualism of the past: SMCP

As with most national literatures, it is both useful and not so useful to define South Korea’s current crop of new and recently emerging writers as a collective. There’s as much variety in contemporary Korean fiction as anywhere else and it’s not unusual for writers to be poles apart in terms of what and how they write.

South Korean critics often take 1987, the year which saw the nation’s first democratic elections, as a cut-off point when defining their country’s “contemporary” writing, a choice that feeds directly into characterisation of this writing as apolitical. In this rather lazy binary, literature pre-1987 gained its purpose – and value – from being strongly yoked to the ideological goal of resisting and critiquing authoritarian rule. Therefore, once this was (seemingly) achieved, writers were left rudderless, and literature became “merely” cultural.

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