Not Exactly All About Korea – but first reviews in “10 Magazine Asia”

Three little ones – the problem was actually to get them down to 150 words and still say something. I guess I’m a wordy writer. These will publish next month.

THE APPEAL
John Grisham

Summer reading season is here. On Gwangali or Boryeong beach, or huddled by your air-conditioner, you can count on John Grisham to deliver a solid summer book; a long story, simply told, in which the bad guys are really, really bad. “The Appeal” delivers page-turning plot and doesn’t let anything interfere. If a character is evil his chauffeur describes him as “ a hothead with a massive ego,” and the action speeds ahead.

“The Appeal” focuses on a small legal firm that has just defeated the deep-pocketed and evil Krane Chemical company. Krane responds with a multi-pronged counterattack hinging on the increasing politicization of the judicial election system and a Machiavellian manipulation of unrelated social issues. The story races towards a satisfyingly downbeat conclusion and with the exception of a few clunky phrases and occasional caricature, is a brilliant choice for beach or sofa. (482 pages, 10,390₩)

THE AQUARIUMS OF PYONGYANG
Chol-hwan Kang & Pierre Rigoulot

“The Aquariums of Pyongyang” tells of a childhood partially spent in a North Korean internment camp. Chol-hwan Kang, recounts his happy childhood in a family that moved to North Korea from Japan. The family arrives as heroes. When the patriarch turns against the state he ‘disappears’ and the family is exiled to camp Yodok. Nine year-old Kang spends ten years struggling to remain alive. Starvation, beatings, overwork and disease are daily fare at the camp, and sensitive readers might flinch as Kang unsparingly recounts his experiences with hunger, sadism, and “the death of compassion.” Kang’s family is finally released, but the specter of re-internment never leaves. Kang escapes to China and then to South Korea. The book’s conclusion, preface and introduction (the last by Pierre Rigoulot) contain some political posturing, which seems hard-earned and does little to lessen the book’s general impact. (238 pages, 14,400 ₩)

LAND OF EXILE
Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton eds.

Readers looking for a quick but comprehensive primer on Korean post-WWII short fiction should purchase a copy of the updated “Land of Exile.” A semi-canonical work within fifteen years of its first publication, four new stories substantially broaden the brief of the anthology, expanding the narrative styles as well as extending the geography of exile that constitutes the main theme of the collection. Co-editors and translators Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton have added “Scarlet Fingernails” by Minsuk Kim; “The Last of Hanak’o” by Yun Ch’oe; “Conviction”(2003) by Such’ol Ch’oe; and “From Powder to Powder” (2004) by Hung Kim. According to Amazon.com, none of the stories in this anthology are in print in any other volume. The “Land of Exile” continues to wear the crown Thomas Hughes grants it as “the richest, most comprehensive selection of postcolonial South Korean short fiction currently available.” (343 pages, 37,640₩)

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