Ride the K-Wave: Recent Korean Translated Fiction
It may feel like pop culture and entertainment offerings from South Korea are suddenly front and center, but the buildup to this moment has been in the works for decades. (Check out Euny Hong's book The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation Is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture, published in 2014.) Whether you're a longtime fan of BTS or have hopped on the K-wave more recently with Squid Game, Hellbound, Extraordinary Attorney Woo, Crashing Landing On You, The Physical 100, Singles Inferno, or many more, access to and appreciation of K-pop, K-dramas, and other exports are at an all-time high. So we want to do our part to promote K-books! The titles below—all translated from Korean and published in the US within the last few years—will give you a sense of South Korea's exciting literary landscape.
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982
by Cho Nam-joo; translated by Jamie Chang
A U.S. release of a feminist best-seller from Korea follows the experiences of a millennial from Seoul who suddenly manifests the bizarre symptom of being able to flawlessly impersonate and then become any woman, alive or dead.
Concerning My Daughter
by Kim Hye-jin; translated by Jamie Chang
Refusing to accept her gay daughter's definition of "family," a widowed, aging mother begins to reconsider the unfair consequences of choosing one's own path when she is told to lower her standard of care of an elderly dementia patient.
by Kwon Yeo-sun; translated by Janet Hong
In the summer of 2002, when Korea is abuzz over hosting the FIFA World Cup, eighteen-year-old Kim Hae-on is killed in what becomes known as the High School Beauty Murder. Seventeen years pass without any resolution for those close to Hae-on, and the grief and uncertainty take a cruel toll on her younger sister, Da-on, in particular. Unable to move on with her life, Da-on tries in her own twisted way to recover some of what she’s lost, ultimately setting out to find the truth of what happened.
Untold Night and Day
by Bae Suah; translated by Deborah Smith
The day after her last shift at an audio theatre for the blind, Ayami guides a detective novelist through Seoul only to discover a frayed reality where the multiverse asserts itself, overlapping realities and potential outcomes before her eyes.
My Brilliant Life
by Ae-ran Kim; translated by Chi-Young Kim
Enjoying a vicarious but rich life through the stories of his parents, conversations with an older neighbor and the books he reads, a boy pens a manuscript documenting his parents’ rather embellished romance, with riotous results.
Kyung-Sook Shin; translated by Anton Hur
San stumbles through life—painfully vulnerable, stifled, and unsure. She happens upon a job at a flower shop in Seoul’s bustling city center and over the course of one hazy, volatile summer, meets a curious cast of characters: the nonspeaking shop owner, a brash coworker, quiet farmers, and aggressive customers. Fueled by a quiet desperation to jump-start her life, she plunges headfirst into obsession with a passing magazine photographer.
by Cho Nam-joo; translated by Jamie Chang
A haunting account of a neglected housing complex in the shadows of Town: a former fishing village bought out by a massive conglomerate. Town is prosperous and safe—but only if you're a citizen with "valuable skills and assets," which the residents of Saha Estates are not. Disenfranchised and tightlipped, the Saha are forced into harsh labor, squatting in moldy units without electricity. Braiding the disparate experiences of the Saha residents, Nam-Joo has crafted a heartbreaking tale of what happens when we finally unmask our oppressors.
The Only Child
by Mi-ae Seo; translated by Yewon Jun
When serial killer Yi Byeongdo asks to speak to her, and her husband’s 11-year-old daughter from a previous marriage shows up at their door, criminal psychologist Seonkyeong starts to unravel the pasts of the two new arrivals in her life and begins to see startling similarities.
The Disaster Tourist
by Yun Ko-Eun; translated by Lizzie Buehler
On the verge of losing her job, Yona, a top representative at a cutting-edge travel agency, takes an assignment to assess a struggling desert island getaway, where she uncovers a plot to fabricate a catastrophe.
by Cho Nam-Joo; translated by Jamie Chang
A haunting account of a neglected housing complex in the shadows of Town: a former fishing village bought out by a massive conglomerate. Town is prosperous and safe—but only if you're a citizen with "valuable skills and assets," which the residents of Saha Estates are not. Braiding the disparate experiences of the Saha residents into a powerful Orwellian parable, Nam-Joo has crafted a heartbreaking tale of what happens when we finally unmask our oppressors.
by Won-Pyung Sohn; translated by Sandy Joosun Lee
A teenager born with a brain condition that makes it difficult to feel emotions has his world shattered when he loses his devoted mother and grandmother and finds himself in a surprising friendship with the school bully.
Seven Years of Darkness
by You-jeong Jeong; translated by Chi-Young Kim
After a young girl is found dead in a reservoir in a remote South Korean village, her father and two security guards discover that each has something to hide as they try to uncover what happened.
The Picture Bride
by Lee Geum-yi; translated by An Seonjae
In 1918, Willow, a young Korean picture bride, arrives in Hawai’i to start a new life but her dreams are soon shattered by a husband who doesn’t want her and by the escalation of the Korean independence movements, which threaten to divide her family and friends.
Summaries provided via NYPL’s catalog, which draws from multiple sources. Click through to each book’s title for more.