Category Archives: The Korea Blog

Dispatches on the literature, cinema, current events, and daily life of Korea from the LARB’s man in Seoul Colin Marshall and others.

You can follow Colin Marshall at blog.colinmarshall.org, on Twitter @colinmarshall, or on Facebook @ColinMarshallEssayist.

The Explorer’s History of Korean Fiction in Translation: What about War?

By Charles Montgomery

The LARB Korea Blog is currently featuring selections from The Explorer’s History of Korean Fiction in Translation, Charles Montgomery’s book-in-progress that attempts to provide a concise history, and understanding, of Korean literature as represented in translation. You can find links to previous selections at the end of the post. Continue reading

Eating Korea: an Anthony Bourdain-Approved Search for the Culinary Soul of an Ever-Changing Country

By Colin Marshall

Koreans I meet for the first time tend to draw all their questions from the same well. What they ask starts out basic — why I came to Korea, what kind of work I do, how did I become interested in Korea in the first place — and then gets more culturally revealing. Having asked how long I’ve lived here, for instance, they often follow up with, “Until when will you live here?”, I question I wouldn’t even imagine asking a recent arrival in America. When the subject turns to matters of the table, as in this food-centric society it always does, they almost invariably ask not “Do you like Korean food?” but “Can you eat Korean food?” — a matter not of taste, they imply, but ability. Continue reading

Koreans in Strange Lands: The History- and Culture-Saturated Fiction of Jo Jung-Rae

By Charles Montgomery

One month ago, in this space, I discussed Jo Jung-Rae’s How in Heaven’s Name, a historical novel of a Korean citizen buffeted from army to army, and country to country, by war. (“Jo Jung-Rae” is the author’s preferred Romanization of his own name, but publishers have used others.) This week, following up on Jo as an author, I will discuss his other translated works, two novels and a novella: The Land of the Banished, Playing with Fire, and The Human Jungle. Continue reading

Will Korea’s Most Famous Buddhist Monk and His Tweets of Zen Wisdom Play in America?

By Colin Marshall

“Penguin’s English translation of The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down comes out in America on February 7th,” tweeted South Korea’s most famous monk, in Korean, at the beginning of this year. “At about the same time, it’s scheduled to come out in fifteen other Western countries like England, Spain, Brazil, Russia, Sweden as well. Please understand my frequent tweeting in English.” Up to that point, communicating with his readers in only his and presumably their native language, Haemin Sunim (sunim, or 스님, being the honorific title for a Buddhist monk) amassed a crowd of followers now numbering 1.24 million. That would qualify him as a Twitter celebrity by any standard, but in beginning to tweet in English, Haemin Sunim effectively announced an attempt to take it the next level. Continue reading

When Chris Marker Freely Photographed, and Briefly Fell in Love with, North Korea

By Colin Marshall

Even though I live there, I still only with difficulty perceive Northeast Asia through any lens not borrowed from Chris Marker. This owes mostly to the influence of dozens of viewings of Sans Soleil, his 1983 fact-and-fiction cinematic travelogue through places like Iceland, Cape Verde, San Francisco, and especially Japan, a feature-length realization of the peripatetic form of “essay film” he invented with 1955’s Sunday in Peking. Between that and Sans Soleil, he’d gone to Tokyo during the 1964 Olympics and come back with the materials for a 45-minute documentary about the titular young woman whom he happened to meet in the street there. Le Mystère Koumiko came out in 1965, just three years after his best-known work: La Jetée, the short drama of apocalypse, time travel, and memory made almost entirely out of still photographs. Continue reading

A Rare Korean War Story in How in Heaven’s Name

By Charles Montgomery

Korean translated literature very rarely features straightforward “war” stories, tending instead to focus on interpersonal and savagely political relationships against the backdrop of a war. This is true of World War II, The Korean War, and the Vietnamese War (many westerners are unfamiliar with Korea’s involvement in that “action”). When exceptions emerge, like the sprawling war story How in Heaven’s Name by Jo Jung-Rae (also romanized as Cho Chong-Rae, Cho Chongnae, and in other ways besides), they are worth noting. It is, like much of Jo’s work, based on reality — in this case, the story of Korean soldiers impressed into various armies — and mixes the brutal reality of war, the horror and uncertainty of capture, with the vagaries of post-war reality. Continue reading

Haruki Murakami Has More Books Out in Korean than He Ever Will in English

By Colin Marshall

Whenever someone has made progress studying a foreign language and asks which author they should try reading in that language, I always recommend the same one: Haruki Murakami. Though perhaps an obvious choice for students of Japanese, his mother tongue and the language in which he writes, his work has now made it into about fifty different languages in total. His stories’ globally appealing style, their abundance of non-Japanese cultural references, and their translation-ready prose style (legend has it he overcame an early bout of writer’s block by writing his first novel in what English he knew, then converting it back to Japanese) make them work just about as well in French, Polish, Turkish, Hebrew, or Mandarin as they do in the original. Continue reading

The Explorer’s History of Korean Fiction in Translation: After Colonialism and Into Civil War

By Charles Montgomery

During the colonial period, the Japanese invaders determined what would and would not happen in Korean literature, but liberation freed Korean to choose its own path. At the same time, for a strongly national literature, colonial history and the traumatic events that it contained left a strong impact on the culture that would reverberate through the years. Worse, further tragic events would follow, and they, too, would leave their footprints on Korean literature. Continue reading

The Korean President’s Artist Blacklist, Product of an Insecure State

By Colin Marshall

The notion of an artist blacklist evokes the ugliest chapters of the Cold War more than the practices of a developed 21st–century democracy, but South Koreans have recently had to come to terms with the fact that, for nearly the past four years, they’ve lived under a state that has seen fit to maintain one. Or at least they’ve lived under a president who felt she couldn’t do without one, and now that she faces impeachment, the names of over 9,000 people her administration has secretly denied official support have come out. They include Han Kang, author of the Man Booker International Prize-winning The Vegetarian, popular filmmaker Park Chan-wook (whose crowdsourced collaboration with his brother Bitter, Sweet, Seoul we featured on the Korea Blog last year), and poet Ko Un, South Korea’s best-placed contender for the Nobel. Continue reading

Where to Start Reading Translated Korean Literature

By Charles Montgomery

Because I write a website on Korean literature in translation, people often email me with questions (often questions I am completely unqualified to answer!), far and away most often asking, “I’m interested in Korean literature. What book should I read?” This that would have been hard enough to answer 20 years ago, when the broad outline of Korean fiction was much simpler, and has become nearly impossible question to answer today. Continue reading