Five great books set in Korea

24th June 2018

Korea is the latest destination in our ‘Five great books set in…’ series. ‘Five great books set in Korea’. And obviously timely, given the recent momentous Trump-Kim summit.

After decades of war, terrifying regimes and a developing nuclear threat, is there finally a chance of long-lasting stability and peaceful co-existence on the Korean Peninsula?

Let’s hope so, but our short list of books set in North and South Korea is a stark reminder of the troubled recent history in this fascinating location.

North Korea:

Five great books set in Korea1. Star of the North by D B John

North Korea and the USA are on the brink of war. A young American woman disappears without trace from a South Korean island. The CIA recruits her twin sister to uncover the truth.

Now, she must go undercover in the world’s most deadly state. Only by infiltrating the dark heart of the terrifying regime will she be able to save her sister…and herself.

 

2. Nothing to Envy by Barbara DemickFive great books set in Korea

North Korea is Orwell’s 1984 made reality: it is the only country in the world not connected to the internet: Gone with the Wind is a dangerous, banned book: during political rallies, spies study your expression to check your sincerity.

After the death of the country’s great leader Kim Il Sung in 1994, famine descended: people stumbled over dead bodies in the street and ate tree bark to survive.

Nothing to Envy weaves together the stories of adversity and resilience of six residents of Chongin, North Korea’s third largest city. From extensive interviews and with tenacious investigative work, Barbara Demick has recreated the concerns, culture and lifestyles of North Korean citizens in a gripping narrative, and vividly reconstructed the inner workings of this extraordinary and secretive country.

3. The Accusation by Bandi

In 1989, a North Korean dissident writer, known to us only by the pseudonym Bandi, began to write a series of stories about life under Kim Il-sung’s totalitarian regime. Smuggled out of North Korea and set for publication around the world in 2017, The Accusation provides a unique and shocking window on this most secretive of countries.

Bandi’s profound, deeply moving, vividly characterised stories tell of ordinary men and women facing the terrible absurdity of daily life in North Korea: a factory supervisor caught between loyalty to an old friend and loyalty to the Party; a woman struggling to feed her husband through the great famine; the staunch Party man whose actor son reveals to him the absurd theatre of their reality; the mother raising her child in a world where the all-pervasive propaganda is the very stuff of childhood nightmare.

The Accusation is a heartbreaking portrayal of the realities of life in North Korea. It is also a reminder that humanity can sustain hope even in the most desperate of circumstances – and that the courage of free thought has a power far beyond those who seek to suppress it.

South Korea:

4. The Good Son by You-jeong Jeong

When Yu-jin wakes up covered in blood, and finds the body of his mother downstairs, he decides to hide the evidence and pursue the killer himself.

Then young women start disappearing in his South Korean town. Who is he hunting? And why does the answer take him back to his brother and father who lost their lives many years ago.

The Good Son is inspired by a true story.

North and South Korea:

5. White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht

Korea, 1943. Hana has lived her entire life under Japanese occupation. As a haenyeo, a female diver of the sea, she enjoys an independence that few other Koreans can still claim. Until the day Hana saves her younger sister from a Japanese soldier and is herself captured and transported to Manchuria. There she is forced to become a “comfort woman” in a Japanese military brothel. But haenyeo are women of power and strength. She will find her way home.

South Korea, 2011. Emi has spent more than sixty years trying to forget the sacrifice her sister made, but she must confront the past to discover peace. Seeing the healing of her children and her country, can Emi move beyond the legacy of war to find forgiveness?

Suspenseful, hopeful, and ultimately redemptive, White Chrysanthemum tells a story of two sisters whose love for each other is strong enough to triumph over the grim evils of war.

Andrew for the TripFiction Team

Which titles would you add to this list? Any you would like to add to our database? Please leave your thoughts in the Comments box below.

Other posts in our ‘Five great books set in…’ series:

Five great books set in Naples

Five great books set in Dublin

Five great books set in Dubai

Five great books set in Portugal

Five great books set in San Francisco

Five great books set in Edinburgh

Five great books set in Guernsey

And our ‘Ten great books set in…’ series includes:

Ten great books set in Paris

Ten great books set in New York

Ten great books set in London

Ten great books set in Rome

Ten great books set in Berlin

Ten great books set in Russia

Ten great books set in Spain

Ten great books set in Amsterdam

Ten great books set in Thailand

Ten great books set in Raj era India

Ten great books set in Japan

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