How Korean books show an unvarnished side of the Hallyu wave
This is a bit from 'The Head', a story from the 2022 International Booker-shortlisted Korean book, Cursed Bunny. Korean dramas had captured the attention of millions around the world thanks to the much-talked-about Hallyu wave. While this may be true of literature in general, it manifests differently in this context because the shiny world of K-dramas is often the first window that many outsiders have into Korean culture. Also Read: How 'Hallyu' became key to Korea's business boom in India For instance, In December, Korean American musician Michelle Zauner’s heartwarming memoir, Crying in H Mart, a poignant memoir about growing up Korean-American, was voted the best autobiography in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2021. In March, a queer coming-of-age-novel set in Seoul, called Love in the Big City, by Park Sang-young and translated into English by Anton Hur, had made it to the International Booker 2022 long list.
Similarly, In The Vegetarian (International Booker winner 2016) written by Han Kang and translated into English by Deborah Smith, a woman faces damaging consequences for deciding to give up meat. Books like these have helped Poorvaja Sundar, a media professional from Chennai understand her favourite Korean dramas better. It is interesting to note that most award-winning literature from Korea comprises stories of women, mostly told by women as well – in addition to The Vegetarian mentioned earlier, this includes Please Look After Mother (Man Asian Literary Prize, 2011) and Kim Ji-young: Born 1982 (Longlisted for the US National Book Award for Translated Literature 2020). “They are quite slice-of-life, but since they are centred on women, they tackle the social norms and their negative effects that women in Korea experience," says Atulaa Krishnamurthy, a fintech lawyer from Bengaluru and a K-drama fan. Kyung-Sook Shin's Please Look After Mother begins with four siblings figuring out how to start the search for their 69-year-old mother who has gone missing. The book jacket of Cursed Bunny, up for the 2022 International Booker to be announced tonight.
"These books are a hard read, so rooted in reality that it has kept me away from the shiny and glittery parts of the K phenomenon, like K-drama and Kpop," says Shreya Punj, a publisher and content creator @TheEditorRecommends. In one of the initial chapters of Kim Ji-young, Born 1982, author Cho Nam-Joo shows the eponymous character feeling “aghast” at the way her mother and teacher tell her to deal with a desk-mate who bullies her. The novel, written like a news feature, frequently quotes actual data to support the narrative. In March 2022, The Korean Herald reported: “According to OECD’s latest data, South Korea has the worst gender pay gap at 31. A lot of these issues feature in K-dramas as well, but the carefully curated world of most dramas–an impeccable-looking cast, catchy background score and lavishly-designed sets–often creates an atmosphere that can sometimes distract us from the egregious display of regressive behaviour.
Read full article at Mint Lounge