In my opinion, when people look for translated literature from Asia, I think Japan can often be more popular than South Korea when it comes to stories.
So, even though Japanese literature is great, there are many great authors from South Korea who write both in translation and in English. You can read some of Laura and I’s favorite Japanese books here!
A few Korean novels I’ve read over the last few years have left an impression on me. I’m not an expert on Korean literature, but I’ve read a few and they all made an impression on me.
These are some of the best books about Korea, so no matter what you like, there should be a book for you on this list. You can read about important parts of history, or you can read about brave farm animals who want to follow their dreams.
Translated Korean Novels
Untold Night and Day by Bae Suah
Translated by Deborah Smith
This short and surreal book will make you feel like you just woke up from a very weird dream when you finish reading it. The story itself is very simple. A young woman is fired from her job at a theater for the blind.
She spends the night with her old boss, looking for a friend who has gone missing in Seoul.
But the oppressive heat of the evening makes it hard to tell what is real and what isn’t, past and present.
Deborah Smith tells us in the translator’s note that Bae Suah is often thought of as “un-Korean.” But this shouldn’t scare you away. If anything, it should make you want to read more of the book.
Every culture and country has its own unique set of things that make it unique, so it’s risky to expect a book from a certain country to be full of cultural symbols for the benefit of a Western reader.
You should read this book, not because it’s one of the best books about Korea, but because it’s a brilliantly creative novel that will make you think about what you read and how you read.
It’s best to read it all at once to pick up on all the little things.
The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun
Translated by Lizzie Buehler
The Disaster Tourist is a disaster book with a twist. It’s off-beat and full of irony. It is a real thing called “disaster tourism,” and our main character, Yona, works for a company called Jungle.
The agency specializes in trips to tsunami sites, towns devastated by hurricanes, and islands built out of burning rubbish, so it’s good at that. The goal of the game is to make the people who play it feel better about their own survival.
If you want to learn about a lot of different things, this short Korean novel by Yun Ko-eun is a good choice! Her book talks about climate change, environmentalism, the #MeToo movement, and other issues. She also talks about morality and collective responsibility.
You can think about a lot of different things while you read this book, but what makes one disaster more appealing than another?
Why does one event get a lot of attention from around the world, but another is only mentioned in a three-line paragraph in a newspaper?
It’s not that we don’t get any answers, but we’re forced to think about them.
A good job was done by Lizzie Buehler as well. Style: It’s simple and stark, which is just right for the subject.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Translated by Deborah Smith
This book by Han Kang is one of the most popular Korean books written today, so I’m sure you already know that.
When you haven’t read this weird little book, I’ll give you another push.
Because this book is about a woman who breaks with society in a big way, it is one of the best books about Korea to read.
She starts having nightmares about things that look like blood, so she decides to stop eating meat to get rid of them. It looks easy, but Yeong-subversive hye’s act starts to reach new heights.
You should go into The Vegetarian with very little knowledge of what it is, so you can fully enjoy the movie. This is what I think.
However, if you’re sensitive to things like eating disorders, rape, and self-harm, then be careful because this book is very dark.
Diary of a Murderer by Kim Young-ha
Translated by Krys Lee
This book is made up of one novella and three short stories, and I think you should buy it just for the title novella.
I think it’s worth it because there are 97 pages. The other stories aren’t bad. They aren’t as good as Diary of a Murderer, but they are still good.
Is there anything you love more than an antihero? Then you have to check out Byeongsu, a former killer who has Alzheimer’s.
She introduces him to her boyfriend, and he is worried that she has become friends with another killer.
The author does a great job of making Byeongsu seem like a real person. Byeongsu’s protectiveness for his daughter and the way Alzheimer’s is shown make it hard not to care for the man who had such a bad past.
The main character’s deteriorating health makes the story more difficult to tell what is real and what is a made-up memory. It’s a heart-wrenching thought about memory and death. It’s
Kim JiYoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo
Translated by Jamie Chang
The book KimJiYoung is one of the best books I’ve ever read about South Korea. It’s also one of the most interesting. In its portrayal of life for women in Korea, it’s very honest and doesn’t make any excuses for it.
During the 1980s, Kim JiYoung was one of the most popular Korean names for girls born. This is the story of the “Korean every woman.”
It’s a big deal when our Kim JiYoung is born as a girl instead of a boy. The sexism starts in her own home, and as she goes to school and then to work, it only gets worse.
In school, Kim JiYoung is bullied by boys and made to choose between her family and her job. In the end, she has to choose.
Women from all over the world will be able to relate to some parts of Kim JiYoung’s story, even though it’s a book about a Korean woman.
The author backs up her words with footnotes and references. In the beginning, this might seem like a bad thing to do. For me, though, it was a good thing.
A story about a woman in South Korea reminded me that this isn’t just a story. It’s a real thing that happens all the time to women in that country.
Neither of us thought the translation was bad. People don’t like the way the voice sounds (which will make sense in the end). No sugar is used in this book. It’s written in a simple way that will keep you turning the pages as quickly as possible.
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang
Translated by Chi-Young Kim
A lot of popular Korean books are dark. I didn’t know this until I wrote this! You can meet Sprout the chicken if you want something a little more light-hearted.
A hen who makes eggs has reached the end of her life. Every day for the rest of her life, she has laid eggs for her farmers. But all this time, she’s had a secret dream. Sprout dreams of having her own egg hatch.
Sprout comes up with a plan to flee to the wild and start a family by hatching an egg. Barn animals and weasels don’t like Sprout.
She’s brave and plucky, even when the odds are stacked against her. She doesn’t take no for an answer.
If you’re an adult, this Korean book is like a sweet and sad fairy tale that you can read. To be brave when things go wrong, to fight against people’s ideas of us, and to accept and celebrate our differences are all things it tells us to do.
Non-Translated Korean Novels
Books written in English about Korea and Koreans are some of the best. I didn’t want to leave them out of this list, so I added them. If you want to learn more about the history of Korea or the lives of Korean-Americans, these are the books you should read.
Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha
Before I read this book, I knew very little about the LA Riots of 1992, which took place in 1992. I think a lot of UK readers will be in the same situation, and this book is a good way to learn about the events even though it’s a work of fiction.
based on the real murder of Latasha Harlins. She was shot in the back of her head by a Korean woman at her liquor store. Your House Will Pay
The Korean store owner was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, but he didn’t go to prison.
A lot of tensions had been building up between the Black and Korean communities in LA for a long time, and this and the beating of Rodney King led to the riot.
Cha’s book is a sensitive and thought-out fictionalized account of the killing and how it affected both families.
People from both families tell us about their lives in different ways. Cha goes back and forth between the 1990s and 2019. A lot of people think about how they might have been able to deal with what happened. She talks about how they might have done that.
Responsibility, family dynamics, racism, social media, justice, and forgiveness are all discussed in this book.
He did a good job of covering everything in 300 pages, but it could have been 200 pages longer.