From the 1948, North and South Korea had been a reflection of the bipolar world view generated by the Second World War. The North lives under Communist rule and the South leans towards the Capitalistic worldview, primarily mooted by the United States of America.
After the Korean War (1950-53), the two countries stood divided till recently. Now a time has come when a South Korean Farmer’s Cooperative wants to publish thirteen North Korean novels.
Earlier South Korean greats like Park Wan Suh brought out novels about the war. Some have been translated to English. They spoke of the sadness of the war and the way it divided people from similar cultural backgrounds — much in the tradition of other countries recovering from the backlash of colonial regimes that dominated Asian history during the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Read more
Born in South Korea, raised in America, educated in England and equally comfortable speaking Korean or English, novelist Krys Lee has trouble pinpointing her “home.” She is now based in Seoul, where her world is “intimate yet alienated,” but when she returns to her old lives in the U.K. and U.S. — places that “should be immediately close to me” — she feels no different.
“I return feeling more a prodigal son (or daughter) who no longer knows what home is,” she says.
The idea of home is a complicated one for Lee, and she examines and reexamines it through her writing. It’s a theme that runs through the recently published, critically acclaimed “How I Became a North Korean,” a haunting, aching novel about three characters — two of them North Korean and one Korean-American — who are stuck in China waiting to travel to South Korea. Read more
The first international symposium where East Asian and Western European researchers held discussions in Japanese took place at Korea University in Seoul on May 15 and 16, under the title “The present and future prospects of Japanese-language literature within the world.” What led to this opportunity to discuss literature in Japanese, now and in South Korea?
Why South Korea? Read more
The Vietnam War is the dark shadow of Korean economic development. Just as Japan’s post–World War II economic success owes much to its supplying of US troops in the Korean War, South Korea used the Vietnam War as a springboard for its own great leap forward. Several successfulbusinesses, like the chaebols Hyundai and Daewoo, grew into huge conglomerates as a result of war-related contracts with the United States. The South Korean military, sustained by US supplies and training during the Vietnam era, also served as the backbone of South Korea’s authoritarian regimes of the 1960s and 1970s. In 1980, the Chun Doo-Hwan government relied on battle-hardened Korean troops to put down the Gwangju Uprising, the penultimate challenge to the US-backed dictators. Korea’s Vietnam syndrome is less about what Korea did in Vietnam than about the way the war transformed Korea for better or worse, and the consequent feelings of guilt and anger that have settled into the silt of the Korean psyche. Read more
The South Korean novelist on her visits to death row, exposing sex offenders, and the dread march of materialism: The Guardian
Photograph: Dahuim Paik (The Guardian)
In South Korea, Gong Ji-Young is a bestselling novelist. Her hallmark is her moral acuity, her desire to make the world a better place. In a recent poll of female Korean university students, she was voted their most popular role model (beating, to her amazement, showbiz celebrities). Her fiction is opinion-forming. One of her books even changed Korean legislation (see below). Her thriller Our Happy Time – so far, her only book published in the UK in a satisfactory translation – is an astonishing read about the relationship between a suicidal woman from a privileged background and a man on death row.
The extraordinary life of Xu Sanguan, a famous Chinese fictional character who sells his blood over the years to support his family, will soon be adapted in South Korea as a blood merchant.
South Korea’s popular actor Ha Jung-woo recently started directing and starring in a film adaptation of a renowned Chinese author Yu Hua’s 1995 novel “Xu Sanguan Mai Xue Ji” or” Chronicle of a Blood Merchant”. Read more
Jeff Kingston bumps into Lee in a subway station and starts a conversation with her: LARB
I recently caught up with Krys Lee, author of the acclaimed short story collection Drifting House (2012). Emerging from the Digital Media City (DMC) subway station, I saw a woman reading Roland Barthe’s Image, Music, Text and figured it must be her.
After buying some mangoes (three for about $5) from a truck vendor we fell into conversation walking through the ghost town of DMC, a gleaming complex of office towers, wide boulevards, open plazas, snazzy sculptures, and very few pedestrians. It is only 30 minutes by subway from the teeming streets of central Seoul, but feels like a distant futuristic planet and, shall we say, a bit soulless. Lee points out all the leading media and production companies that jumped on board this government project to establish a thriving media hub, but early on a Friday night, the lights were dim and sidewalks rolled up. Read more
Among several plans to promote literature, South Korea hopes to send children’s books to the North as part of Incheon’s turn as UNESCO World Book Capital 2015: Publishing Perspectives
The unfolding South Korean ferry tragedy has cast a pall over Incheon’s plans to celebrate its status as UNESCO World Book Capital 2015. The ferry was traveling from Incheon Port to the southern resort island of Jeju. At the London Book Fair, where Korea was Market Focus, many of the proposed schemes for the year-long accolade were on display. Read more
Hwang’s story belongs on a bookshelf somewhere between the Charlotte’s Web and Animal Farm, says Dmitri Nasrallah in The Toronto Star
English translations of South Korean literature are generally rare, given the vast difference between the two languages and the cultural connotations that must be overcome for fictional tapestries to be understood in all their depths. Sun-mi Hwang’s 2000 novella, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, has finally made it to North American readers after some 13 years — in part because it lacks any of the overt national signifiers that would otherwise complicate its understanding. Read more
Publishing isn’t like this in the west. Imagine a town where every single building is related to the books business; where every single person you pass in the street is in the same line of work; where signs on the sidewalk say things like “Bookcafe Beautiful Peoples;” and where the publishers even pay for branded buses to bring their staff to work. Welcome to South Korea’s Paju Bookcity.
Originally conceived back in 1989 by a group of publishers who wished to create a kind of model village that would have books and book production at its heart, the intention was for all members of this book community to place “common good” above “ruthless self-interest” and for staff to work in buildings whose architecture was in harmony with the environment.
Certainly, of all the places visited by the UK book trade’s fact-finding mission to South Korea last month, as part of the run-up to Korea’s position as Market Focus at the London Book Fair in 2014, this was arguably the most peaceful, even harmonious, although this may have been as much to do with relief at getting away from Seoul’s urban sprawl and traffic as any formula for a model community.