The quest for Korean literature

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As one of my majors is Korean Studies and I am currently working on a thesis that utilizes literature about or from the critical period of democracy and labor movements in the 1960s through 80s (send help), I have had my fair share of struggling to find source materials. When you’re not in Korea, it can be difficult to get your hands on a copy of a Korean-language book, let alone one in translation. Hard copy? Ebook? At this point, it doesn’t matter what format it takes, as long as it’s readable. Here are my methods for securing that hard-to-find copy of a Korean book I desperately want (or in the case of my thesis, need) to read.  Continue reading

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Books I bought in Korean (and other acts of madness)

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새해 복 많이 받으세요!

It’s already been over a week since I left the Land of the Morning Calm and returned home – and discovered that Seoul has more snow than Michigan, which is terrible. Michigan, I feel betrayed!

In my three heavy suitcases, I lugged back my earthly possessions: clothes, gifts, selfie sticks, and of course, books. Textbooks, biographies, and works by Andrei Lankov, obviously, but more pertinent to my language studies, I brought back books in Korean.

Me in the Kyobo Bookstore inside Gwanghwamun Station

I am a firm believer that the more you read, the wiser you can become, and the better you learn to write and comprehend. It doesn’t matter what language you read in; it will help you. Korean is no exception, which is why I pushed myself to buy two novels that I know I cannot read without laboring over each paragraph. You can’t get better without challenging yourself. I also chose to buy poetry, because poetry is artistic and allows one to learn about the creative soul within a language.  Continue reading

Dissecting Korean Quotes

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Recently, I’ve been particularly interested in dissecting famous sayings/quotes in Korean. Or not so famous ones. Any quotes in Korean, in general, are super interesting. I’ve always loved ‘collecting’ sayings in English – I absolutely adore Quotables and I even buy the cards just for myself. When I said collecting…I mean it. I do actually collect quotes.

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Korean literature intimidates me…

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미안합니다 for the long hiatus; I’m finishing up my senior year, combating AP tests, and karate-chopping major projects while deadlines pop out of my ears….but still, shame on me for neglecting my blog!

I know you were just standing forlornly in the rain, waiting for me to post something...right?

Can you forgive me if I give you a David Tennant GIF?

Let’s be honest; while I would love to be at the proficiency level of coming-home-and-tossing-my-things-aside-and-cracking-open-a-book-written-in-Korean-by-Koreans-for-Koreans (a level of proficiency also known as fluent) Continue reading

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

nothing to envy cover

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Few people have any idea what goes on in North Korea—not just because they’re ignorant, but because it’s difficult to get any information on the topic. “Is Psy from North Korea?” No, no he’s not. The six people in Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea are. And they grew up very differently than the world-famous Gangnam Style oppa.

Nothing to Envy is a gripping read with information gathered from countless interviews and a huge amount of research. I read it within two days and stared at a wall for a long time when I finished it. These were real people and stories—these are real people and their real stories. Not only are the North Korean refugees in the story alive and free, but their friends and family and countless other North Koreans still live beyond the demilitarized border between North and South, beneath the suffocating cover of their government.

The eye-opening story that really gripped me was about a woman who loved her country. She was an absolute patriot, and loathed those who tried to escape. Yet her story interested me the most because it not only explained how her mind changed and she decided to escape, but because it showed why she believed the propaganda and supported North Korea and its methods in the first place—from a real North Korean’s view.

I highly recommend Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea to anyone interested in South or North Korea, East Asia, or a very good and very real book. 감사합니다.

 

Extra Reading:

New York Times

Review by Book Worm’s Head blog

Confucius Lives Next Door

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confucius

 

While you may tell yourself that you’re only interested in South Korea, Confucius Lives Next Door by T. R. Reid is my number one book for learning about Asian (not just South Korean) culture. Maybe there’s a better book out there that I haven’t read yet, but this book really takes the cake. Or the kimchi.

 

Kimchi. Yum.

Kimchi. Yum. Awful attempt at making an image of kimchi spell the word kimchi. Not yum. My apologies…

 

Confucius Lives Next Door: What Living in the East Teaches Us About Living in the West is primarily written about the author’s experience with the culture in Japan; however, as the author spent time living in places throughout Asia, including South Korea, I find this relatively inconsequential, because there’s a lot to be learned about Asian culture in general from this book. The book is a goldmine of information about the reasons why Asian culture is the way it is -and how America can benefit from it.

So who’s the incredibly wise guy whose social, economic, and cultural influence is still going strong throughout China, Japan, South Korea, etc.?

 

Confucius - The Greatest Thinker and Educator

This guy. Confucius – The Greatest Thinker and Educator

 

T. R. Reid knows quite a lot about Confucius, yet the book doesn’t talk about Confucius’ life. The book details Reid’s experience and afterthoughts on moving with his family to Asia. It explains how Confucianism is pervasive to Asian culture and how it has helped create not only the incredible “Economic Miracle” of rapidly modernizing and prospering Asian countries but also the lesser known but equally important “Social Miracle.” It even explores comparisons between Asia and the United States, and, though the book is more than a decade old, it remains useful to the reader seeking cultural understanding.

Pick up a copy of Confucius Lives Next Door and start understanding why family is so important in South Korea, why honorifics, formal language, bowing, deferral to elders, and general social stability are a common element to much of Asia. Yeah, yeah, Confucius is part of the reason. But the other reasons are discussed in the pages of T.R. Reid’s book. Read it. You won’t regret it.

And if you’re afraid it’ll be boring, Reid’s humorous yet cuttingly informative writing style will keep you interested to the very end.

 

Read some goodreads opinions.

Read another person’s review of T.R. Reid’s book (it’s not just me!).

Find out more about T.R. Reid on the man’s own site.

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감사합니다!

Please Look After Mom: a Korean novel of family, heartache, and loss

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I recently read Please Look After Mom, a novel revolving around a family’s search for their missing foundation – their mother and wife. The famous South Korean author, Kyung-sook Shin, spun her masterpiece so flawlessly that I thought it was at least partly autobiographical; I discovered in this article that I wasn’t the only one – “‘She thought the story was completely real,'” (x Kyung-sook Shin about one of her readers).

 

Please Look After Mom is an award-winning novel (published in English in 2011) that not only provides a tragic and beautiful tale of how a Korean family comes to terms with the disappearance of their aging mom, but it also gives insight into Korean culture and tradition. Yet as the story is in a modern setting, this insight isn’t limited to historical culture – it shows the reader the effect of Korea’s rapid development and how it has influenced the younger generation (the daughter and son) as opposed to the older (the father and the missing mother). And for the literary-lovers, it’s rich with symbolism that ices the cake of this book.

 

I absolutely recommend Please Look After Mom, whether you read it for its literary value, or to learn more about Korean culture, or even just because you’re looking for something new to read. Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin is crafted to be accessible and rewarding for anyone.

 

감사합니다!