He was not an ordinary man” goes the story, “in addition to a handsome, manly face and stalwart, he possessed a bright, quick mind, and was naturally clever. A more dutiful son could not be found.”

And just what counts as dutiful in this day and age? Obsessing over your father’s health and whims with the energy and dedication of a budding serial killer; guiding Dad’s head to the pillow each night, and greeting him with a smile when he opens his eyes in the morning. This is the fluff and ceremony of Choson, Confucian Korea.

Once he has finished…


All good stories of a certain age start this way, with disappointment… and a sudden, swollen belly — a “warmhearted” husband, a barren wife, and the “pity” of “heaven”.

This is Korea, so things twist early with shamanistic intent. A single flower floats purposefully towards our wife, Mrs. Chang. As she catches it, a “whirlwind” kicks-up. From the dust and bluster a small fairy emerges, wiggles into Mrs. Chang’s “bosom”, and poof! Just like that, she’s pregnant.

It is possible in all of life to do too good of a job, and our fairy certainly seems guilty of this. The…


Dwarfs are uncomfortable little creatures. Nothing fits the way it ought to and everything has a life of its own; no dexterity, no coordination between limbs. A Frankenstein of disproportionate body parts, nerves, bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and sinew, all dancing out of tune to impossible, foreign, music.

Before the men with the sledgehammers moved to the next house they had watched the woman and children in silence.” Cho Se-hui is writing a story that everyone here knows, whether they witnessed it or not. It is Korea old and new, proud and ashamed, guilty and victimised, necessary and indulgent; it…


When you walk into the room, everyone is laughing a bit too hard at the not-particularly-funny joke of an older woman you’ve never seen before. Do you:

A) Step in with a really funny joke, definitely much better than the one you just heard. Your new colleagues are going to love this!

B) Laugh along with the others, even though it’s not very amusing.

C) Find a tactful moment to introduce yourself to the older woman, who you’ve correctly assumed must be the head of the company.

If you chose A, you seriously need to work on your nunchi. If…


There are two ways for this to start. With a pair of yellow dragons, happy in their violence, wounded and bleeding into the soil. Or with a kind-hearted oaf, thick through his limbs, “grizzled” by overwork, and hoping — in between cigarettes — to feel just a little more alive.

This is the Korean version of things, so we are dealing with the lumbering idiot… his name is Oksoe.

The taste of dragons still lingers somewhat, but only in the rough and impulsive tempers of our characters, and in the stained landscape: “Dragon Stream”,Red Clay Valley”.


A motorcycle takes on different styles for different drivers” writes Kim Young-ha, “Taeju’s driving was like an effortless, dashing cursive”.

The adrenaline and the professional subtleties of the road, cars, speed, noise, engineering, and oily exhilaration, are not new themes for Kim. A near-Freudian repression forcing itself into his mind and pen, he’s been here before in I Have the Right to Destroy Myself as well as Your Republic is Calling You. But never before has he tried it on so thick and mushy.

Through simple, clumsy, unpolished prose — all childishly decorated with twists and gimmicks — of those…


The famine came fast, but it had been quietly building for years. Leeching off their Soviet big brother, and pushing through a series of fast-gain agricultural policies worked… until it suddenly didn’t. As the Soviet Union began to collapse, so did North Korea. By 1994, it was all over, nothing could be done; a famine so deep and wide-reaching that it needed its own moniker — the ‘Arduous March’ — had settled over the country.

This was the same year when the Great Leader, Kim Il-sung, the only ruler that North Korea had ever known, died. He left the country…


Everything had already been tried, and most people weren’t listening. Now firmly on the edge — after four years of famine — it seemed like their world was finally coming to its natural end. Potatoes would be a last, clawing attempt at survival.

It started when it all started. Waiting until he was sure that the Japanese shadow would never return, a stout man, with a patchy reputation, skulked into the eastern port of Wonsan. There was no welcoming party, and no one recognised him; just as he didn’t recognise the country around him. …


“‘He could die,’ I said, fiddling with one of the chewy caramel packs neatly lined up on the display stand.”

“‘Is that so?’”

By far the most interesting thing about this novel, is just how bad it is! The next thing that catches the reader’s attention — the only other thing — is how incredibly well it is selling.

And it’s not so hard to understand once you get your hands on this mess, and roll through a few lazy paragraphs. …


White bird,

White dog,

White butterfly,

White gulls,

White fur,

White hair,

White pebble,

White bone,

White cabbage,

White grains,

White flakes,

White things,

We have all experimented like this. We have all thought this way about ourselves. Jotting down scribbles of pain and emotion and inner-life — paragraphs, sentences, phrases, single words that feel just too good to throw away. Little fragments of supposed genius. If you don’t grow out of it through your teenage years like most people, the appropriate thing to do, still, is to wait. …

Jed Lea-Henry

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