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April 2014

Writing from South Korea

Image: Do Ho Suh, "Fallen Star," 2012 © Do Ho Suh. Stuart Collection, University of California, San Diego. Photo: Philipp Scholz Rittermann

This month we're spotlighting South Korea. Although the country is among the ten largest book markets in the world, relatively few of its writers have been translated into English, and many emerging writers were largely unknown outside South Korea. Kyung-sook Shin's Man Asian Prize sparked new interest and contributed to the increased visibility of the country's thriving literary culture. The writers here, ranging from the perennial Nobel nominee Ko Un to the precocious Ae-ran Kim, demonstrate the depth and variety of contemporary South Korean literature. Kyung-sook Shin follows a lovesick young soldier. Ae-ran Kim's disaffected teen tries to escape her battling parents, as Kim Young-ha goes in search of an absent father. Han Kang's enigmatic wife gives up meat and sex. Han Yujoo mourns a death and battles writer's block. Park Min-gyu and Yi Mun-yol find their workplaces transformed. In a poem from his multivolume epic Ten Thousand Lives, Ko Un depicts the human side of history. In other poetry, Shim Bo-seon yearns for magic, Kim Sa-in reminisces, Kim Soo-Bok reflects on fertility and the sea, and Jeong Ho-seung books a trip to hell. We thank the Literature Translation Institute of Korea for its generous support, and our advisors Martin Alexander and Sora Kim-Russell.

Elsewhere, we present poetry by two exiled writers, Iraqi Manal Al-Sheikh and Palestinian Mazen Maarouf, as well as the sixth and final installment of Sakumi Tayama's tale of an accidental medium. 

Say Ah, Pelican

Eventually the boats were no more than little dots in the sky

from “I’ll Be Right There”

When whales swim toward the coastline, they sound like North Korean spy submarines

Injeolmi Rice Cakes

I would collapse on the warm floor and sleep like a cat.


The Vegetarian

"Your body smells of meat."


I can't write a single sentence.


The Suit

He finally realized why Alex had hired an investigator and invited him to the US.


Ascending Scales

Mi-yeong and I tried to grab the piano legs, but it was too late.

Gamak Valley

If an unfamiliar man appears, their eyes light up.


My Wife’s Magic

I want to live in a world that’s perfect like magic


Winter That Year

As the late autumn winds began to blow, the place came alive.

Earning My Keep

I think I'll go pay a visit to Hell.


Mud Flats

At dawn a ship leaves, cutting through her stomach.



Book Reviews

Hassan Blasim’s “The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq”

Reviewed by Kate Prengel

Hassan Blasim's Iraq is a debased and deadly place

Xu Zechen’s “Running through Beijing”

Reviewed by Andrew Rose

To the average Westerner, reared on crisp autumn breezes and revitalizing spring air, Beijing’s tianqi, its weather, is a surreal departure.

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