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Best Books About Korea

Discover Korea's rich history, culture, and modern life with the best books about Korea, ranked by their prominence across major literary guides and blogs.

Recommendations from 28 articles, Barack Obama, Jon Stewart, Peter King and 17 others.
72 books on the list
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The Vegetarian book cover
The Vegetarian
Han Kang - 2016-02-02 (first published in 2007)
Goodreads Rating
A powerful and unsettling tale about rebellion and the consequences of breaking from tradition. The Vegetarian tells the story of Yeong-hye, whose decision to give up meat sets off a chain reaction of increasingly grotesque events in her personal life. As her family members struggle to control her, she becomes further estranged from herself and those around her. This darkly allegorical and Kafka-esque novel is celebrated by critics worldwide, exploring themes of power, obsession, and liberation.
Pachinko book cover
Min Jin Lee - 2017-02-07
Goodreads Rating
Experience a breathtaking journey of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty in this novel. Set in the early 1900s, follow Sunja, a young girl who falls for a wealthy stranger and becomes pregnant. Deciding to marry a gentle sickly minister instead, Sunja's decision sets off a dramatic saga that spans generations. With complex and passionate characters, this novel takes you on a journey through bustling markets, the halls of prestigious universities, and the criminal underworld. Richly told and profoundly moving, this is a tale of strong women, devoted siblings, and fathers struggling with moral crisis against the backdrop of history.
Human Acts book cover
Human Acts
A Novel
Han Kang - 2017-01-17 (first published in 2014)
Goodreads Rating
A powerful and poignant exploration of political unrest and the fight for justice in South Korea. Interconnected chapters follow the victims and their loved ones as they navigate grief, censorship, and trauma after a violent massacre. From a grieving mother to a prisoner to a factory worker, their collective heartbreak and resilience create a stunning portrait of a people seeking a voice. This award-winning bestseller from a renowned author is a must-read that resonates with audiences today.
Nothing to Envy book cover
Nothing to Envy
Ordinary Lives in North Korea
Barbara Demick - 2009-12-29
Goodreads Rating
Discover the lives of six ordinary North Koreans over fifteen tumultuous years in this eye-opening and groundbreaking portrayal of life under a totalitarian regime. Award-winning journalist Barbara Demick provides an intimate look at a world cut off from modern technology and plagued by famine, where displays of affection are punished and informants are rewarded. Through meticulous and sensitive reporting, Demick takes readers deep inside the country to witness the struggles, fears, and ambitions of average citizens. Nothing to Envy is a powerful addition to the literature of totalitarianism that provides crucial insight into a closed world of increasing global significance.
Recommended by
Laura Shin
The Court Dancer book cover
The Court Dancer
Kyung-Sook Shin - 2018-08-07 (first published in 2007)
Goodreads Rating
Travel back to the late Joseon Dynasty and experience the life of Yi Jin, an orphan who catches the eye of the Empress and becomes a jewel in the court. When a French diplomat falls in love with her, he takes her to Paris where she becomes an independent woman, translating and publishing Korean literature. But her new life comes with its own complications and sorrow. This heartbreaking true story, filled with intrigue and historic detail, will stay with you long after you turn the final page.
In Order to Live book cover
In Order to Live
A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom
Yeonmi Park - 2015-09-29
Goodreads Rating
Escape from the repressive society of North Korea was an unimaginable journey for Yeonmi Park and her family. In her heartbreaking memoir, "In Order to Live," she shares intimate details of the brutal reality of life in North Korea and the incredible hardships she faced in order to escape. From starvation and torture to sexual slavery, Yeonmi and her mother risked everything to build a new life in South Korea. Now a human rights activist, Yeonmi's resilience and determination make her story all the more inspiring.
Recommended by
Tuur Demeester
The Island of Sea Women book cover
The Island of Sea Women
A Novel
Lisa See - 2019-03-05
Goodreads Rating
The Island of Sea Women tells the story of two best friends, Mi-ja and Young-sook, from the Korean island of Jeju, who work as baby divers in their village's all-female diving collective. Set against the backdrop of Japanese colonialism and war, the novel follows their lives and friendship as they navigate danger and responsibility, but also differences that lead to conflict. As the two girls grow up and face challenges beyond their control, their bond is put to the test. This historical fiction explores the lives and roles of haenyeo, the sea women of Jeju.
Drifting House book cover
Drifting House
Krys Lee - 2012-02-02
Goodreads Rating
Explores the struggles of a people reconciling their collective past with the rewards and challenges of their present, in both Korea and the United States. Krys Lee's stunning fiction debut illuminates political and financial hardships of life in Korea and the immigrant experience. An unforgettable work of love, identity, war, and the homes we make for ourselves, reminiscent of Chang-rae Lee and Jhumpa Lahiri, by a dazzling new writer.
White Chrysanthemum book cover
White Chrysanthemum
Mary Lynn Bracht - 2018-01-30
Goodreads Rating
This deeply moving fiction novel follows two sisters separated by World War II, set in Korea in 1943. The older sister saves the younger one from a Japanese soldier, but is captured and forced to become a "comfort woman" in a military brothel. The story also takes place in South Korea in 2011 as the younger sister tries to move beyond the legacy of war and find forgiveness. Suspenseful and ultimately redemptive, this book tells a story of love strong enough to triumph over the evils of war. Fans of Pachinko and Lilac Girls will enjoy this heartbreaking history brought to life.
Please Look After Mom book cover
Please Look After Mom
Kyung-Sook Shin - 2011-01-01 (first published in 2008)
Goodreads Rating
A family's search for their missing mother leads them to question how well they knew her, as long-held secrets and private sorrows reveal themselves. This powerful novel is a poignant portrayal of contemporary life in Korea and a moving exploration of the love between family members.
The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-Eun
The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Chol-Hwan Kang
When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park
Without You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim
The Korean War by Max Hastings by Max Hastings
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang
Lost Names by Richard E. Kim
The Guest by Hwang Sok-Yong
At Dusk by Hwang Sok-Yong
The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee
A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa
The New Koreans by Michael Breen
Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader by Bradley K. Martin
The Birth of Korean Cool by Euny Hong
The Plotters by Un-Su Kim
Dear Leader by Jang Jin-Sung
The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
The Real North Korea by Andrei Lankov
I'll Be Right There by Kyung-Sook Shin
The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong
Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park
If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim
Blood Sisters by Kim Yideum
Flowers of Mold & Other Stories by Seong-Nan Ha
Untold Night and Day by Bae Suah
I Have the Right to Destroy Myself by Young-Ha Kim
The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam
Our Korean Kitchen by Jordan Bourke
The Hidden History of the Korean War by I. F. Stone
The Accusation by Bandi
My Brilliant Life by Ae-Ran Kim
Once Around the Sun by Melanie Steyn
The Impossible State by Victor Cha
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
North of the DMZ by Andrei Lankov
Comfort Woman by Nora Okja Keller
The White Book by Han Kang
The Calligrapher's Daughter by Eugenia Kim
The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim
If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha
Native Speaker by Chang-Rae Lee
North Korea Confidential by Daniel Tudor
The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee
The Interpreter by Suki Kim
Friend by Nam-nyong Paek
Everything Belongs to Us by Yoojin Grace Wuertz
Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah
Tongue by Kyung-Ran Jo
Mina by Kim Sagwa
The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun
Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha
Violets by Shin Kyung-sook
Greek Lessons by Han Kang
Almond by Won-Pyung Sohn
A Kim Jong-Il Production by Paul Fischer
Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden
No Flower Blooms Without Wavering by Jong-Hwan Do
Seven Years of Darkness by You-Jeong Jeong
Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung
The Only Child by Mi-Ae Seo
b, Book, and Me by Sagwa Kim
Lemon by Kwon Yeo-sun