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.


Enlightenment Fiction and the Birth of the “Modern” Korean Novel

By Charles Montgomery

The BLARB 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


Travel Is Living: How Airbnb Ingeniously Markets to Korea

By Colin Marshall

Stuff Koreans Like, a short-lived imitator of the mid-2000s satirical blog Stuff White People Like, only took ten posts to get to travel essay books. “Usually set in foreign cities (mostly New York or Paris),” writes its author, “they feature soft-focus photographs of café facades and interiors, coupled with inane text with no depth or historic/sociological insight into the destination being essayed about, just a lot of ‘Ooh this café was so pretty and its espresso so delicious. Ooh here’s another pretty café and its hot chocolate was so sweet.’” A tough assessment, but in its way a fair one: I come across dozens of (admittedly always well-designed) volumes that more or less fit that description whenever I browse the filled-to-bursting travel shelves at any of the bookstores here in Seoul. Continue reading


Finding Breezy Humor at the End of the World: the Stories of Kim Mi-wol

By Charles Montgomery

Quietly, even sneakily, Kim Mi-wol is becoming a must-read Korean author in translation. Clever readers may have noted a point that has been beaten to death on this blog: younger female writers are leading the charge in Korean literature’s overnight success. From my perspective this is a wonderful thing, but also, by its nature, a limited thing. Because most of these authors come from similar demographics and deal with similar themes (alienation, the quotidian oppression of women, etc.), there is a thematic similarity to their work. Continue reading


Anti-Trump Protests, Anti-Park Protests, and the Koreanization of American Politics

By Colin Marshall

Since the election of Donald Trump last Tuesday, protesters across the United States, thousands of them in downtown Los Angeles alone, have taken to the streets to make their displeasure heard. Coincidentally, anti-presidential protests have also erupted in South Korea own over the past few weeks, culminating in the unrelieved crush of humanity, comprising 500,000 to one million demonstrators — an astonishing number, even in a country with a rich tradition of protest — that filled downtown Seoul on Saturday night. They came not to object to an undesireable president-elect, but to demand the resignation of Park Geun-hye, the president of more than three years who stands accused of having handed the reins of power to an unelected and previously obscure confidante, herself the daughter of a religious cult leader. Continue reading


Finding a New Seoul in the Old Buildings of Kim Swoo-geun, Architect of Modern Korea

By Colin Marshall

Like many a Westerner with an interest in Korea (and without any stake in the relevant historical conflicts), I’ve also cultivated a parallel interest in Japan, and I find few things Japanese as interesting as I find Japanese architecture. Who, I began to wonder as I learned more about the architecture of Japan and the culture of Korea, stands as the Korean equal of a Kenzo Tange, a Kisho Kurokawa, or a Tadao Ando, with their deep concerns not just for the aesthetics but the shape of society to come? I didn’t have an answer until, on a walk through central Seoul with scholar of the both the Korean language and built environment Robert Fouser (whom I more recently interviewed here on the Korea Blog), I first visited Seun Sangga, South Korea’s first large-scale residential-commercial complex. Continue reading


Heroes, Fantasies, and Families: What Went Into the First Korean Novels?

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


Hagwon Horror Stories: Kevin M. Maher’s English-Teaching Expat Novel “No Couches in Korea”

By Colin Marshall

Korea has inspired several volumes of English-language travel writing, even narratives of extended sojourn in or repeat visits to the country over long periods of time, but a full-fledged, high-profile memoir or novel of the expatriate-in-Korea experience has yet to materialize. Kevin M. Maher’s No Couches in Korea, which recounts the experiences of a young man who leaves his native America, his girlfriend, and their cat behind to teach English in the coastal city of Busan, falls somewhere between memoir and novel. Though formally neither here nor there, it nevertheless opens a window onto the sort of lives lived within a quasi-professional subculture that, for better or worse, has colored and continues to color the expat community in Korea to a deeper extent than most anywhere else in Asia. Continue reading


Working the Spaces Between: an Interview with Korea Lit founder Hannah E. Carson

By Charles Montgomery

In the last dozen years or so, Korea has made a concerted effort to increase its cultural presence in the “foreign” world. Noting the successes of the “Korean Wave” (also known as hallyu) and hip-hop dance teams, the Korean government has begun to see that what is Korean can also be international, and that Korean soft power can spread around the globe. But this process has been fitful, the country’s governmental agencies sometimes being their own worst enemies. (A blog post about that topic might get my next entry into Korea denied.) Continue reading


Watching Korea Develop Through Sixty Years of Commercials

By Colin Marshall

Not long after I moved to Korea, an American expat of decades’ standing described the country to me as approaching the end of its “long 1950s.” He meant, I think, that all the qualities we rightly or wrongly associate with America in the 1950s — family solidity, lifetime employment at large companies, robust economic growth, national self-esteem, public morality, broad societal consensus on a host of issues — only recently began to break down here. Whether to revere that era or to revile it, American culture still revisits the 1950s fairly often, and it tends to play off an image many of us came to know through television, the medium that defined it. Continue reading