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Category Archives: books

Times Literary Supplement: Suzy Hansen’s “Notes on a Foreign Country”

Not long ago, a curious artefact of American culture suddenly went viral: a short promotional video for a casual dining chain called Sizzler, once one of the most popular in the country. “All across America, a song of freedom rings, a song that’s growin’ stronger every day”, declares its soaring ballad. “That’s the Sizzler way: […]

Korea Blog: Is Simon Winchester’s “Korea” a Classic Travelogue or Cultural Offense?

“This book has a precious little to recommend for itself. It reads more like a white man’s fantasy.” “The vaguely creepy paternalistic narration was extremely off-putting.” “I found his voice to be a little bit too ‘male.’” “It would have been a good book if he had left his commentary out of it.” “I have […]

Korea Blog: French Nobel Laureate J.M.G. Le Clézio’s New Novel of Korea, and the Love of Korea That Inspired It

Like any country afflicted by an inferiority complex, South Korea has shown an avid interest in winning Nobel Prizes, to the point of scrutinizing and attempting to adapt for itself the customs of the nations (and even ethnicities and religions) that have managed to produce large numbers of Nobel laureates. But apart from the 2000 Peace […]

Los Angeles Review of Books: David Sedaris and the American struggle with foreign languages

“THE INEVITABLE finally happened,” writes David Sedaris in his diary entry of April 6, 1999. “My French teacher faxed Andy at Esquire saying my articlehas had the effect of a bomb at the Alliance Française.” That piece, which became the title essay of Sedaris’s 2000 collection Me Talk Pretty One Day, tells of the French classes he took at […]

Los Angeles Review of Books: Down with the English Language

Linguistic Life in South Korea once moved me to write a short essay in Korean called “영어에 대한 네 가지 거짓말” or “Four Lies About English.” The first lie, to translate it back into that native language of mine, holds that English speakers can live comfortably in every country in the world; the second, that […]

Korea Blog: Why do Koreans Love Herman Hesse’s Demian Above All Other Western Novels?

Not long before moving from Los Angeles to Seoul, I went book-shopping with my Korean language exchange partner at The Last Bookstore downtown. Browsing the semi-organized upstairs stacks (often literal stacks, at least at that time), we came across a cache of Korean paperbacks from the 1990s. As I tried to find a book there […]

Times Literary Supplement: Michael Breen’s “The Koreans” and “The New Koreans”

The Korean word for South Korea is hanguk, but South Koreans more often refer to it as uri nara, “our country”. The equivalent term in Japanese is mainly used by octogenarian ultraconservatives, but in South Korea everyone says it. They also speak of uri mal, uri eumshik, uri ddang, uri minjok – “our language”, “our […]

Los Angeles Review of Books: Haruki Murakami, “Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa”

Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 opens in the middle of an unusually scored Tokyo traffic jam: “The taxi’s radio was tuned to a classical FM broadcast. Janáček’s Sinfonietta — probably not the ideal music to hear in a taxi caught in traffic. The middle-aged driver didn’t seem to be listening very closely, either.” His passenger, a young […]

Korea Blog: Haruki Murakami Has More Books in Korean than He Ever Will in English

Whenever someone has made progress studying a foreign language and asks which author they should try reading in that language, I always recommend the same one: Haruki Murakami. Though perhaps an obvious choice for students of Japanese, his mother tongue and the language in which he writes, his work has now made it into about […]

Axt: 구원과 JM 쿳시의 <엘리자베스 코스텔로>

이번 (타와다 요코 표지가 있는!) 호 Axt (1월/2월, #010)에 내 첫번째 한국어로 쓴 서평은 나온다. 구원과 JM 쿳시의 <엘리자베스 코스텔로>에 대한 것이다. My first print article in Korean, on redemption and J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello, in this month’s issue of Axt (January/February 2017, #010) — and one with a Yoko Tawada cover, no less!