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Category Archives: books

Korea Blog: How the Seoul Government Turned a Bestselling Feminist Novel Into a Controversial PR Campaign

Few readers in Korea seem to lack an opinion about Kim Ji-young Born 1982 (82년생 김지영), the best-selling novel in the country last year. The first book by Cho Nam-joo, a 39-year-old former television scriptwriter who quit her job after her daughter was born, it tells a story at first engineered for a maximum of normality: the […]

Times Literary Supplement: Michael Vatikiotis’ “Blood and Silk”

“Everyone lies to you in Thailand”, a former Bangkok resident told me at a recent gathering of Asia correspondents. When you ask a local when the next bus arrives, for example, they’re likely to tell you five minutes even if it went out of service years ago. They do it not out of malice towards […]

Korea Blog: Frank Ahrens’s Life-in-Korea Memoir Seoul Man

Dropping into a recent gathering at an expatriate-oriented wine shop in Seoul, I met an American couple quite different from the countrymen I normally encounter here: not only were they born, raised, and married in Texas, they’d come to Korea together for one year and one year only. The engineer husband’s employer, a certain electronics […]

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 […]