Brothers Under a Same Sky

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by Gary Pak
University of Hawaii Press, 2013

Gary Pak’s latest novel is the story of two Korean-American brothers, Nam Kun and Nam Ki Han, raised in a devout Christian household on a Hawaiian plantation. Following their father’s death, Nam Kun works to support his mother and younger brother, but distances himself from the same Christian faith his remaining family clings to. Years later, at the start of the Korean War, Nam Ki is drafted into the army—an occurrence Nam Kun believes will make a man out of his younger brother. However, the need to kill clashes with Nam Ki’s religious convictions, and the ethical turmoil that follows is soothed only when he meets and falls in love with a young Korean, Christian woman. Nam Ki vows to return for her once the war ends, but upon doing so learns that she has fallen into an ignominious lifestyle, confronting him with a final choice between faith and flesh.

Gary Pak is a third-generation Korean-American. He received his BA from Boston University and his MA and PhD from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, where he is currently a professor of English. His published fiction includes the novels A Ricepaper Airplane and Children of a Fireland, as well as the short story collections The Watcher of Waipuna and Other Stories, and Language of the Geckos. He is the recipient of the 1992 Elliot Cades Literary Prize, as well as a 2002 Fulbright award to Seoul, South Korea.

Drifting House

Drifting Houseby Krys Lee
Viking/Penguin, 2012.

Spanning the Korean peninsula and the United States, from the postwar era to contemporary times, Krys Lee’s fiction debut, Drifting House, is about people who are torn between the traumas of their collective past and the indignities and sorrows of their present.

In the title story, children escaping famine in North Korea are forced to make unthinkable sacrifices to survive. The tales set in America reveal the immigrants’ unmoored existence, playing out in cramped apartments and Koreatown strip malls. A makeshift family is fractured when a shaman from the old country moves in next door. An abandoned wife enters into a fake marriage in order to find her kidnapped daughter. (Publisher’s description.)

Although born and currently living in Seoul, South Korea, Krys Lee spent much of her childhood in California and Washington and spent time in England. In 2012 she received a special mention in the Pushcart Prize Anthology. In 2006 she was included in a short list of finalists for the Best New American Voices.

Modern Korean Fiction: An Anthology

edited by Bruce Fulton and Youngmin Kwon
Columbia University Press, 2005.

To represent the past century of Korean fiction, this collection extends beyond familiar writers, challenges cultural norms, and crosses political borders. By including stories from neglected female, North Korean, and “wlbuk” writers (those who migrated to the North after 1945 and whose works were widely banned in South Korea) and by bringing politically engaged works together with experimental ones, this anthology articulates the ruptures and resolutions that have marked the peninsula.

From sketches of desperate peasants in straitened circumstances to fast-moving, visceral tales of contemporary South Korea, the works in this collection bear witness to the dramatic transformations and events in twentieth-century Korean history, including Japanese colonial rule, civil war, and economic modernization in the South. The writers explore these developments through a variety of literary and political lenses, revealing with precision and poignancy their impact on Korean society and the lives of ordinary Koreans. This anthology includes an introduction, which synthesizes the key developments in modern Korean literature, and a comprehensive bibliography of Korean fiction in translation. (Publisher’s description)

Bruce Fulton occupies the Young-Bin Min Chair in Korean Literature and Literary Translation at the University of British Columbia. He is the co-translator of Words of Farewell: Stories by Korean Women Writers; Land of Exile: Contemporary Korean Fiction; and A Ready-Made Life: Early Masters of Modern Korean Fiction.

Youngmin Kwon is professor of Korean literature at Seoul National University.

And So Flows History

by Hahn Moo-Sook
translated by Young-Key Kim-Renaud
University of Hawai’i Press, 2005.

And So Flows History (Yŏksanŭn hŭrŭnda, 1948) depicts the relentless power of exterior forces on the individual lives of three generations of the illustrious Cho family—from the waning years of the Chosŏn dynasty in the late nineteenth century to the tumultuous post-liberation era. The novel opens with a tragic confrontation between two classes: the rape of a young slave by her master, the respected magistrate Cho Tongjun. Within a year, the magistrate has been murdered by Tonghak rebels, and his two sons are leading the family to ruin—one on account of his blind adherence to tradition, the other owing to his collaboration with the Japanese. Only Tongjun’s youngest child provides hope for the future through her marriage to a enlightened young teacher and patriot. (Publisher’s description)

Hahn Moo-Sook (1918–1993) is one of Korea’s most successful writers of modern realist literature. She received many awards for her writing, including the 1986 Grand Prix of the Republic of Korea Literature Award for her novel Encounter. And So Flows History, Hahn’s first novel, received first prize in a 1947 contest organized by a major Korean daily.

Young-Key Kim-Renaud is the eldest daughter of Hahn Moo-Sook. She is chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures and professor of Korean language and culture and international affairs at George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

Until Peonies Bloom

By Kim Yeong-nang
Translated by Brother Anthony of Taize
MerwinAsia, 2010

Kim Yeong-nang (1903–1950) is highly reputed in Korea for the delicate lyricism of his poems. Yet in many ways he has remained little known, even in Korea, limited to a small number of often anthologized poems. Although he was a resolute opponent of Japanese colonial rule, he did not suffer frequent imprisonment, or death, so his role as a champion of Korean independence has largely been ignored. Killed in bombing near the start of the Korean War, he had no time to participate in the development of a new Korean poetry.

Many of Kim Yeong-nang’s earlier poems clearly express opposition to Japanese rule; after Liberation in 1945, he wrote to express his agony at the looming conflict between leftists and rightists that he saw threatening to tear Korea apart. At the same time, most of his poems are bold experiments in forms of Modernism; his use of images and symbols as well as his exploration of native Korean rhythms make him one of the most rewarding and challenging poets of his time. He spent most of his life in his native Gangjin, far removed from the literary world of Seoul, and the beauty of the Jeolla Province landscapes, as well as its dialect’s vocabulary, underlie his poetry. (Publisher’s description)

Brother Anthony of Taize is Emeritus Professor of English Literature at Sogang University. He has published over twenty-five translations and edited several anthologies of works of Korean literature.

The Curious Tale of Mandogi’s Ghost

by Kim Sok-Pom
Columbia University Press, 2010

The Curious Tale of Mandogi’s Ghost incorporates Korean folk tales, ghost stories, and myth into a depiction of epic tragedy. Written by a zainichi, a permanent resident of Japan who is not of Japanese ancestry, the novel tells the story of Mandogi, a young priest living on the island of Cheju-do. Mandogi becomes unwittingly involved in the Four-Three Incident of 1948, in which the South Korean government brutally suppressed an armed peasant uprising and purged Cheju-do of communist sympathizers. Although Mandogi is sentenced to death for his part in the riot, he survives (in a sense) to take revenge on his enemies and fully commit himself to the resistance. The Curious Tale of Mandogi’s Ghost relates the trauma of a long-forgotten history and its indelible imprint on Japanese and Korean memory. (Publisher’s description)

Kim Sok-pom was born in Osaka, Japan, to Korean parents who emigrated from the island of Cheju-do. He is best known for his seven-volume fictional work, Kazanto (Volcano Island), which centers on the Cheju Uprising of 1948.

The Long Road: A Novel

by Kim In-Suk
MerwinAsia, 2010

The Long Road is a short novel that examines the processes that caused idealistic young Koreans to depart for overseas during the 1990s in the wake of their experiences under Korea’s darker days of military dictatorship in the 1980s. The story centers on a trio of men: Han-Yeong, who although initially attracted to the freedom that Australia seems to promise, comes to feel increasingly ambivalent about his life there; his brother Han-Rim, a former minor singing star who fell afoul of the authorities in Korea for a song seen as critical of the government; and Myeong-U, who had been a student activist in Korea and develops psychological difficulties during his time in custody for protesting.

Winner of the 1995 Hanguk Ilbo Literary prize, The Long Road is the sole work of Korean literature in English that treats the Korean diaspora experience in Australia. (Publisher’s description)

Kim In-Suk is one of the most prominent of Korea’s new wave of female writers born in the early sixties. Recipient of numerous prestigious literary prizes, she is also one of the few writers to deal extensively with the Korean expatriate experience.