Nell Zink, Member of the Tribe

By Sam Jaffe Goldstein

Mark my words: it is no coincidence that Private Novelist’s publication coincides with the second day of Rosh Hashanah, when we Jews celebrate the new year and look towards Yom Kippur, when we will ask our old-testament-God for forgiveness. Nell Zink may or may not have dreamed up, planned out, and been the mastermind behind this non-coincidence. That Private Novelist is being released alongside her new novel Nicotine perhaps points to a larger conspiracy orchestrated by Ecco and HarperCollins’ — a collusion, if you will, designed to sell more books. But why give all the credit to some marketing department, when it might be Judaism we have to thank? 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


Reading Hillbilly Elegy in Beijing

By Jeremiah Jenne

The United States and China have more in common than people might think. Both are vast, continental empires with revolutionary governments convinced utterly of their own superiority. Each possesses a sense of exceptionalism that alternately fascinates and repulses other nations. And both, despite an oft-stated ideological commitment to equality of opportunity, embrace a vision of economic growth which is riven with inequality and class divisions. Continue reading


Reading Plays

By Ian MacAllister-McDonald

The first time script I ever read was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as adapted by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. I played the role of the Count himself in my Catholic high school production back in 2001. The production was about what you would expect out of a group of American teenagers pretending to be European adults. I was mortified when, as I stood on stage during the final dress rehearsal in my dopey cape and fangs and white face paint, watching as the actress playing Mina asked — as politely as she could — if we could please change the scene at the end of Act One where Dracula kisses Mina on the lips. We’d rehearsed it a dozen times already, always stopping just short of the kiss, which, as a bookish teenager in the theater club was about as close to girls as I generally got. The director looked at my co-star, registering her shame and terror, and conceded. Perhaps, he suggested, Dracula could kiss her on the neck? No, that wouldn’t work. Perhaps bite her neck….? She hadn’t even stopped shaking her head. “Okay, he can start to bite your neck, but we’ll drop the curtain before he makes contact. How’s that?” The actress winced, then gave a deep shuddery sigh and nodded, eyes locked in a thousand-yard stare. A true professional. In the end, the scene played out much as Mr. Stoker had surely imagined it, with a 17-year-old Count Dracula almost maybe probably going to bite the neck of a noticeably grossed-out Mina. The scene was taught, real, and very powerful. Continue reading


Trigger Warnings: What We Fear

By Bailey Pickens

At the end of August, John Ellison, dean of the University of Chicago, joined the ranks of many an essayist penning searing critiques of something that does not exist.

Trigger warnings and their ostensible sidekick, the safe space, have featured regularly in the news and essays of cultural criticism in the last year, since protests at schools like Yale and the University of Missouri sent them rocketing to the forefront of the national consciousness. Piece after piece, by writers ranging from the quite conservative to the avowedly liberal and even the leftist, declares trigger warnings and safe spaces indicative of weakness of intellect, character, or courage on the part of students: these millennials are coddled, unwilling to engage with ideas in conflict with their own opinions, demanding that the university bend itself to their every emotional whim. In short, they are antithetical to everything the Western academy stands for. Continue reading


Why Does Korean Literature Use an Alphabet?

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.

Perhaps the most important advancement for Korean literature in the Middle Ages was the development of the Korean alphabet, hangul. Chinese had historically been the language of the literati, but the development of a national literature required a writing system of Korea’s own. Continue reading


Wish You Were Here: The Virtues of Banality

By Maximillian Alvarez

I. “Love in the Ruins”

When I begin to lose hope—when I sense that I am, in the most existentially sticky way, wasting time—I think of the things I’ll really miss about this place.

I love driving, for instance. Driving lets me think. But driving alone with certain playlists going can have the effect of running a hose from the tailpipe to my window: endlessly masochistic, even suicidally so. My eyes sink back like shriveling fruit and the car fills up with heavy, odorless thoughts. Continue reading


Looking for Ghosts in the Quietest Place in Beijing

By Jonathan Chatwin

On my first visit to Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery – China’s national cemetery, and resting place of the founding fathers of the Chinese Communist Party – I had been refused entry at the gate by a zealous teenage guard, who, somewhat incredulous at my pressing for an explanation, had simply observed “Ni shi waiguoren” – “You’re a foreigner” – and walked back to his hut. I thus decided, for my return attempt, to enlist my Chinese friend Christy, who, experience had taught me, could generally talk her way into most places, and out of most situations. Continue reading