Epic adventure-satire Whale, written by Cheon Myeong-kwan in 2003 and translated into English by Kim Chi-young, was the South Korean nominee this yr (it follows Bora Chung’s Cursed Bunny – an anthology of surreal and twisted tales addressing Korea’s patriarchal, capitalist society, nominated in 2022). Like Pachinko, Whale is a multi-generational story that sheds new gentle on Korea’s societal transformation within the years following the Korean Battle; it follows an enterprising lady who leaves house to commerce foodstuffs in a port metropolis – who later turns into obsessive about the development of a cinema formed like a whale in a fast-modernising rural village. The Booker 2023 judges referred to as it: “a rollercoaster journey via Korean historical past and tradition… stuffed with magic and humour, profound darkness and battle, horrible violence and prejudice.”
Different notable latest Korean novels embrace Cho Nam-joo’s Kim Ji-young, Born 1982 – a couple of lady who strives to defy restrictive gender roles throughout her childhood, marriage and motherhood between 1982 and 2016. It bought multiple million copies upon publication in South Korea in 2016, and was seen as a catalyst for the nation’s #MeToo motion. Equally compelling is the newest by Hwang Sok-yong – who, in 1993, was sentenced to seven years in jail after travelling to the North to advertise trade between artists. Mater 2-10, launched on 11 Might within the UK, centres on three generations of a household of rail employees – spanning the Japanese colonial period via to the nation’s liberation, proper as much as the twenty first Century.
That such wealthy, nuanced works have taken a backseat to the standing quo-rupturing efforts of dynamic filmmakers and pop stars till now’s, maybe, according to the broader course of Korean cultural historical past. Fulton factors out that “the oral and efficiency custom [of Korean storytelling] developed again within the previous kingdoms… there was no Korean alphabet till the 1400s”; and that the written phrase was largely the windfall of “a only a few educated males” proper up till the fashionable period. However as this flood of literature (from women and men of all backgrounds) is more and more acclaimed and accessible within the West in the present day, maybe the Korean wave is likely to be turning a web page – even because it continues to look to the previous.
Hallyu! The Korean Wave is on the V&A till 25 Jun 2023
The Penguin Book of Korean Short Stories is out now
Love books? Be a part of BBC Culture Book Club on Fb, a group for literature fanatics everywhere in the world.
And for those who favored this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, referred to as The Important Checklist. A handpicked collection of tales from BBC Future, Tradition, Worklife and Journey, delivered to your inbox each Friday.