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Ten Great Books set in SOUTH KOREA

2nd January 2022

South Korea is the latest destination for our ‘Great Books set in…’ series. Ten great books set in South Korea. South Korea, an East Asian nation on the southern half of the Korean Peninsula, shares one of the world’s most heavily militarized borders with North Korea. It’s equally known for its green, hilly countryside dotted with cherry trees and centuries-old Buddhist temples, plus its coastal fishing villages, sub-tropical islands and high-tech cities such as Seoul, the capital

‘Even monkeys fall from trees’ – Korean proverb meaning even experts can make mistakes

Ten Great Books set in SOUTH KOREAThe Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

A new novel from Lisa See, the New York Times bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, about female friendship and family secrets on a small Korean island.

Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends that come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook’s mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility but also danger.

Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook’s differences are impossible to ignore. The Island of Sea Women is an epic set over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War and its aftermath, through the era of cell phones and wetsuits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, and she will forever be marked by this association. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that after surviving hundreds of dives and developing the closest of bonds, forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

This beautiful, thoughtful novel illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge, engaging in dangerous physical work, and the men take care of the children. A classic Lisa See story—one of women’s friendships and the larger forces that shape them—The Island of Sea Women introduces readers to the fierce and unforgettable female divers of Jeju Island and the dramatic history that shaped their lives.

A Second Chance by Lucy James

A plane touches down in South Korea and Grace Carmichael steps off it into an unknown and challenging world. The fast moving pace of life in Seoul is both scary and exhilarating. Her new job as an English teacher is a far cry from the mundane 9-5 events planner job she left behind in Edinburgh.
Then, she meets and falls for charismatic, Xander West, a powerful American diplomat. He brings excitement and intrigue to her life and she’s catapulted into a world of glamourous dinners and glittering cocktail parties. But will her past let her live a life she could only dream about before? As her relationship with Xander intensifies, she discovers one startling revelation after another and wonders if life with him is too good to be true?

A story of heartbreak, new beginnings and the ultimate betrayal…

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

13-year-old Tree-ear lives in a Korean village famous for its ceramics. He doesn’t have much but he loves to watch master potter Min at work and dreams of learning the craft one day.

Reluctantly Min agrees to let Tree-ear help him. Determined to do whatever it takes to prove himself, Tree-ear embarks on a dangerous journey to present his master’s work to the king, unaware it will change his life forever.

Bride of The Water God by Mi-Kyung Yun

When Soah’s impoverished, desperate village decides to sacrifice her to the Water God Habaek to end a long drought, they believe that drowning one beautiful girl will save their entire community and bring much-needed rain. Not only is Soah surprised to be rescued by the Water God – instead of killed – she never imagined she’d be a welcomed guest in Habaek’s magical kingdom, where an exciting new life awaits her! Most surprising, however, is the Water God himself… and how very different he is from the monster Soah imagined.

Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung

The night before Janie’s sister, Hannah, is born, her grandmother tells her a story: Since the Japanese occupation of Korea, their family has lost a daughter in every generation, and Janie is told to keep Hannah safe.

Years later, when Hannah cuts all ties and disappears, Janie goes to find her. It is the start of a journey that will force her to confront her family’s painful silence, the truth behind her parents’ sudden move to America twenty years earlier, and her own conflicted feelings toward Hannah.

Weaving Korean folklore with a modern narrative of immigration and identity, Forgotten Country is a gripping story of a family struggling to find its way out of silence and back to one another.

Somebody’s Daughter by Marie Myung-Ok Lee

Somebody’s Daughter is the story of nineteen-year-old Sarah Thorson, who was adopted as a baby by a Lutheran couple in the Midwest. After dropping out of college, she decides to study in Korea and becomes more and more intrigued by her Korean heritage, eventually embarking on a crusade to find her birth mother. Paralleling Sarah’s story is that of Kyung-sook, who was forced by difficult circumstances to let her baby be swept away from her immediately after birth, but who has always longed for her lost child.

Ten Great Books set in SOUTH KOREATen Thousand Sorrows by Elizabeth Kim

The illegitimate daughter of a peasant and an American GI, Elizabeth Kim spent her early years as a social outcast in her village in the Korean countryside.  Ostracized by their family and neighbours, she and her mother were regularly pelted with stones on their way home from the rice fields.  Yet there was a tranquil happiness in the intense bond between mother and daughter.  Until the day that Elizabeth’s grandfather and uncle came to punish her mother from the dishonour she had brought on the family, and executed her in front of her daughter.

The Calligrapher’s Daughter by Eugenia Kim

Najin Han, the privileged daughter of a calligrapher, longs to choose her own destiny. Smart and headstrong, she is encouraged by her mother-but her stern father is determined to maintain tradition, especially as the Japanese steadily gain control of his beloved country. When he seeks to marry fourteen-year-old Najin into an aristocratic family, her mother defies generations of obedient wives and instead sends her daughter to serve in the king’s court as a companion to a young princess.

The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa

First love is never easy. Ehwa grows up helping her widowed mother run the local tavern, watching as their customers – both neighbors and strangers – look down on her mother for her single lifestyle. Their social status isolates Ehwa and her mother from the rest of the people in their quiet country village. But as she gets older and sees her mother fall in love again, Ehwa slowly begins to open up to the possibility of love in her life.

Ten Great Books set in SOUTH KOREAPlease Look after Mother by Kyung-Sook Shin

Literally translated from the Korean, the title means “I entrust Mother to you”. In this book a mother goes missing in Seoul and her family (daughter, son and husband) is left trying to find her. The narrative, as the family members go in search in Seoul, is about reviewing her life, the lost moments, and attitudes towards her making them realise how they never fully appreciated her and how they never told her how much she meant to each of them.

We hope you enjoy our collection of books set in South Korea. If we have missed any go your favourites, please add them in the Comments below.

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