5 Must Read South Korean Novels (in English)
When sixty-nine-year-old So-nyo is separated from her husband among the crowds of the Seoul subway station, her family begins a desperate search to find her. Yet as long-held secrets and private sorrows begin to reveal themselves, they are forced to wonder: how well did they actually know the woman they called Mom?
Told through the piercing voices and urgent perspectives of a daughter, son, husband, and mother, Please Look After Mom is at once an authentic picture of contemporary life in Korea and a universal story of family love.
Seoul, 1978. Jisun, the daughter of a powerful business mogul, grew up on a mountainside estate with lush gardens and a dedicated chauffeur. Namin’s parents run a tented food cart from dawn to curfew; her sister works in a shoe factory. Now Jisun wants as little to do with her father’s world as possible, abandoning her schoolwork in favor of the underground activist movement, while Namin studies tirelessly in the service of one goal: to launch herself and her family out of poverty.
Everything changes when Jisun and Namin meet an ambitious, charming student named Sunam, whose need to please his family has led him to a prestigious club: the Circle. Under the influence of his mentor, Juno, a manipulative social climber, Sunam becomes entangled with both women, as they all make choices that will change their lives forever.
In this sweeping yet intimate debut, Yoojin Grace Wuertz details four intertwining lives that are rife with turmoil and desire, private anxieties and public betrayals, dashed hopes and broken dreams—while a nation moves toward prosperity at any cost.
Kyuri is an achingly beautiful woman with a hard-won job at a Seoul “room salon,” an exclusive underground bar where she entertains businessmen while they drink. Kyuri’s roommate, Miho, is a talented artist who grew up in an orphanage but won a scholarship to study art in New York. Returning to Korea after college, she finds herself in a precarious relationship with the heir to one of the country’s biggest conglomerates.
Down the hall in their building lives Ara, a hairstylist whose two preoccupations sustain her: an obsession with a boy-band pop star, and a best friend who is saving up for the extreme plastic surgery that she hopes will change her life. Wonna, one floor below, is a newlywed trying to have a baby that she and her husband have no idea how they can afford to raise in Korea’s brutal economy.
Together, their stories tell a gripping tale at once unfamiliar and unmistakably universal, in which their tentative friendships may turn out to be the thing that ultimately saves them.
After the 1950s Korean War, three young people – Hyung Jin, a young girl disowned by her parents; Sookie, a teenage prostitute kept by an American soldier; and Lobetto, a lost boy who pimps for neighborhood girls – desperately long to come to America and start a new life, in a penetrating novel of the consequences of the war.
One of the most notable novels of the year, hailed by both critics and K-pop stars alike, Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 follows one woman’s psychic deterioration in the face of rampant misogyny. In a tidy apartment on the outskirts of Seoul, millennial “everywoman” Kim Jiyoung spends her days caring for her infant daughter.
But strange symptoms appear: Jiyoung begins to impersonate the voices of other women, dead and alive. As she plunges deeper into this psychosis, her concerned husband sends her to a psychiatrist. Jiyoung narrates her story to this doctor―from her birth to parents who expected a son to elementary school teachers who policed girls’ outfits to male coworkers who installed hidden cameras in women’s restrooms.
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