by Kim In-Suk
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.
By Yang Gui-ja
Cornell University East Asia Program, 2005.
Contradictions is a coming-of-age tale that explores the paradoxes and contradictions of the human condition and delves into the meaning of personal happiness. The book opens with a moment of epiphany as the main character An Jin-jin awakens to the realization that her entire energy must be devoted to her own life. She struggles over whom to marry with an awareness of consequences gleaned from seeing the divergence in the lives of twin sisters—her mother and her aunt. A host of binary oppositions is also presented in the lives of the men around her: a wannabe gang boss brother, an Ivy League cousin, an alcoholic schizophrenic father, a steadfast but rigid uncle, and her two suitors. Yang develops these characters in increasingly complex threads as the novel unfolds in a series of surprises. (Publisher’s description)
Yang Gui-ja is one of Korea’s major literary figures of the last generation, with a succession of literary prizes and best-sellers to her credit. Her most representative early work, the 1987 Wonmi-dong saramdeul, is available in English as A Distant and Beautiful Place.
By Hwang Sunwon
Translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton
Columbia University Press, 2010
This collection of short stories depicts the struggle of everyman to survive in tumultuous mid–20th-century Korea. In “Bulls,” Pau is riddled with guilt after seeing men brutalized and imprisoned by a Japanese constable collecting grain tax. The darkly ironic “Booze” follows Chunho, a devoted steward of the Nakamura distillery in Pyongyang, as he fights to maintain control after property is redistributed following the liberation of Korea from Japanese occupation in 1945. In the title story, Sogi witnesses his childhood love, Suni, sold as a concubine by her family. Sogi and Suni run away together only to discover that their love is true yet doomed. A distinction between North and South Korea in a contemporary sense is not obvious in Hwang’s stories, although the Korean War is the focal point of “Voices,” in which a disabled veteran returns home incapable of reintegrating into his rural society. Hwang beautifully depicts the lives of ordinary individuals, allowing a glimpse into a bygone era. (Publishers Weekly)
Hwang Sunwon (1915-2000) is one of modern Korea’s most influential writers. He is the author of more than one hundred stories, seven novels, and two collections of poetry. Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton are translators of numerous volumes of modern Korean fiction and have received several awards and fellowships for their translations.
By Kim Sowol
Translated by David R. McCann
Columbia University Press, 2007.
Originally published in 1925, Azaleas is the only collection produced by Kim Sowol (1902-1934), yet he remains one of Korea’s most beloved and well-known poets. Thanks to the elegant translations by David R. McCann, this landmark of Korean literature is now able to speak to people of all cultures. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in Korea and poetry.
David R. McCann is Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Literature at Harvard University.