Reading list

5 books set in Korea you have to read

Discover the past and present of life in North and South Korea, through the words of Koreans themselves and those who have lived and worked there.

Star of the North

D. B. John

D. B. John has lived in South Korea and is one of only a handful of Westerners to have visited North Korea. He brings this rare insights to Star of the North, a tense and at times explosive triller recommended by Lee Child, James Swallow and more. A young American woman disappears without trace from a South Korean island. The CIA recruits her twin sister to uncover the truth. Now, she must go undercover in the world’s most deadly state. Only by infiltrating the dark heart of the terrifying regime will she be able to save her sister…and herself.

The Impossible State

Victor Cha

How did North Korea become The Impossible State, where citizens found humming South Korean pop songs risk being sent to a gulag, and yet a starving populace clings fiercely to its Dear Leader Kim Jong-un? Former White House adviser and Director of Asian Studies at Georgetown University, Victor Cha, pulls back the curtain on the world’s most isolated country to provide an unprecedented insight into North Korea’s history, present and future. In the era of the Trump administration and with South Korean relations seemingly on the brink of great change, this in-depth account of the country offers much-needed answers in an increasingly uncertain political climate. Extensive and fast-paced, The Impossible State is a gripping portrait of the society, economy and foreign policy of the most enigmatic nation-state.

 

White Chrysanthemum

Mary Lynn Bracht

Mary Lynn Bracht grew up in a community of women who had emigrated to the US from post-war South Korea. She visited her mother's village in 2002, and it was during this trip she first learned of the 'Comfort Women', who were captured and forced to work in brothels by the occupying Japanese military. It was this that inspired her to write White Chrysanthemum. Hana and her little sister Emi are part of an island community of haenyo, women who make their living from diving deep into the sea off the southernmost tip of Korea. One day Hana allows herself to be captured by a Japanese soldier, in order to save Eni and so begins the story of two sisters suddenly and violently separated by war. Moving between Hana in 1943 and Emi as an old woman today, White Chrysanthemum takes us into a dark and devastating corner of history — and two women whose love for one another is strong enough to triumph over the evils of war.

The Poet

Yi Mon-Yol

The Poet is the most significant novel written by Yi Mon-Yol, Korea's leading novelist, describing the difficulty of creating art and maintaining integrity in an unjust society. Intended to be read as a metaphor for Korea in the late Twentieth century, The Poet tells the story of Kim, the younger grandson of a treacherous governor, consigned to a life of wandering and vagrancy because of his family's choices while he struggles for recognition as a poet. Like his grandfather, Kim is constantly tempted to make compromises – to the point of betraying his own family – to survive as an artist and a free spirit.

 

In Order To Live

Yeonmi Park

Her story is extraordinary: Yeonmi Park was one of the first women to escape from North Korea. But she wasn't dreaming of freedom. She feared that if she and her family stayed, they would die – from starvation, or disease, or even execution. In Order to Live is Park's account of her struggle to survive in the darkest, most repressive country on earth; her harrowing escape through China's underworld of smugglers and human traffickers; and then her escape from China across the Gobi desert to Mongolia, with only the stars to guide her way. Finally, she reaches South Korea, and emerges onto the global scene as a human rights activist - all before her 21st birthday.

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