4 books by Korean authors that need to be on your reading list

Whether you’re already a fan of Korean literature, K-drama and K-pop or newly discovering the Hallyu offerings, here are some of top recommendations

By Tamreez Inam

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Published: Thu 9 Nov 2023, 8:27 PM

Last updated: Fri 10 Nov 2023, 1:08 PM

This year’s Sharjah International Book Fair, running from 1-12 November, welcomed South Korea as its Guest of Honour and introduced audiences to a range of Korean authors, artists and cultural personalities through panel discussions, illustration workshops, art performances and cookery demos.

Whether you’re already a fan of Korean literature, K-drama and K-pop or newly discovering the Hallyu offerings, here are some of my top recommendations of books by Korean authors for your reading list.


Pachinko

Pachinko is Min Jin Lee's sweeping saga of a Korean family in Japan spanning almost a century from early 1900s to 1990. While we're introduced to numerous themes and characters over the years, the attention doesn't waver thanks to Lee’s masterful storytelling. The narrative is full of heartbreak but also love, tenderness and humour.


Lee spent nearly 30 years researching this book and that richness is revealed in the tiny details of the world the novel (re)creates. I knew so little of the Japanese colonisation of Korea or the discrimination against Koreans in Japan (even if they were second or third generation) that a lot of the narrative came as a shock to me.

I was so fully immersed in the world of this book that when it ended, I felt bereft. Someone mentioned to me that there is a screen adaptation available. Just to stay connected to the characters a little longer, I actually bought a subscription to Apple TV+ and watched the series! It’s a brilliant adaptation starring Lee Min-Ho, Kim Min-Ha and Jin Ha and worth a watch.

I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Tteokbokki

After RM of K-pop sensation BTS recommended this ‘therapy memoir’, it went on to sell 100,000 copies in six months just in the UK and may also have contributed to the rise in global sales of tteokbokki.

Written by Baek Sehee, and translated by the brilliant Anton Hur, the book is an exploration of mental health. Part memoir and part self-help book, Baek Sehee honestly describes her own experiences with therapy for her depression. She mentions that she wrote the book with a “desire to help and comfort” others and given the runaway success of the book, it is safe to say that the book has done just that for many.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

I picked up this book because I had seen it on almost every list of best Korean books. Described as ‘a ground-breaking work of feminist fiction’ and ‘a howl of anger’, the book demanded to be read.

Kim Jiyoung, an ordinary woman in her 30s, suddenly starts unravelling and shows signs of being inhabited by others such as her late mother and older sister. Through her story, which could be any woman’s story, the novel renders a searing indictment of the misogyny and institutional discrimination prevalent in South Korea in the 80s and 90s and even to present day in some respects. While the narrative style isn’t the most riveting, it is nonetheless an important, original and eye-opening book relatable and relevant to many.

Crying in H Mart

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner, the Korean-American lead singer and guitarist of the indie pop band Japanese Breakfast, is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read.

Zauner was 25 when her mother died of cancer. In this memoir, she recounts how she came to terms with her grief by cooking her mother's Korean recipes, from bulgogi, kimchi to miyeok guk soup. She takes you back to her childhood growing up in America while visiting Korea with her mother, her love for her Korean relatives, learning Korean but also grappling with her mixed heritage (her dad is white).

It is a brutally honest account of Zauner’s relationship with her mother: while there is a lot of love, she also recounts the rough patches, the misunderstandings and the unhappy times. More than anything, Zauner’s love of Korean food, as a way of keeping her mother's memory alive, shines through. Be prepared to have your heart expanded, shed some tears but also to come away with a craving for Korean food.

wknd@khaleejtimes.com


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