The year 2020 has been one wild ride. And that’s putting it lightly. The world has collectively shut down in a way that we’ve never seen before. However, many places didn’t stop. Many companies kept running (not in person, of course) and have tried to stick to the most “normal” they could while at home. One of the industries that kept going was the book industry. Despite it all, publishing houses around the world have kept working hard to give us new literature to read during our own stuck-at-home phases. South Korea has put out tons of books. However, this year was also pretty massive for translated Korean books.
While sitting in my own house, I found some really amazing translated Korean books that came out this year. These books will not only help occupy your time, but will alight your imagination again. So, take a glance at these five translated Korean books that came out during 2020. Hopefully, you find one that interests you enough to read.
1. Kim Ji-young, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-joo
Kim Ji-young, Born 1982, written by Cho Nam-joo and translated by Jamie Chang, is a literary fiction novel. It discusses the struggles many women go through. The main character, Kim Ji-young, essentially becomes other women by impersonating their voices—both women who are alive and women who are dead. However, she isn’t doing this on purpose. She doesn’t even know all of the women that she impersonates (accidentally impersonates, I should say).
This feministic story recounts the difficulties that women face as they go through life being policed by the male figures around them. Each person that Ji-young impersonates has their own story that they need to tell. They all have their own struggles brought upon them by the unfair treatment they’ve gotten just because of their gender.
This novel first came out in Korean in 2016. And the English translation was only recently released on April 14, 2020. However, this book has skyrocketed to the top of peoples’ “to-read” list because of how eye-opening and gripping it is. This novel is something that helps us understand each other better and understand the struggles we might not always see.
If you would like to read more information about this novel or perhaps buy it, you can find it on Amazon here.
2. The Law of Lines by Pyun Hye-young
This thrilling novel is Pyun Hye-young’s second English translated novel to come after her award winning book The Hole, published in 2017. The Law of Lines sticks close to her typical thrilling writing style. This book follows two main female characters—Se-oh and Ki-jeong—connected by themes of death and criminality. And, as the two women get deeper within their search for the truth, more things start to connect between their lives.
Though there’s no original date of publication that I can find, the English translated version of The Law of Lines came out on May 5, 2020. Sora Kim-Russell, who has also translated Pyun’s novels The Hole (2017) and City of Ash and Red (2018), translated this book.
Out of all the novels on this translated Korean books list, this one is the most striking to me. I’ve read part of Pyun’s novel The Hole and was very impressed with it. I’m confident that The Law of Lines will not disappoint you if you’re a fan of Pyun’s writing. For more information on the novel or if you’re looking to purchase it, you can find it on Amazon here.
3. Almond by Sohn Won-pyung
If you’re into coming-of-age stories, then Almond is the book for you. Personally, this is one of my favorite picks from this list (because I’m a total sucker for coming-of-age stories).
Almond follows the life of a boy, Yunjae, who was born with a brain condition called Alexithymia. Essentially, this condition makes it difficult for Yunjae to feel/understand emotions. This also means that the boy has a hard time having friends. However, his mother and grandmother provide him with a safe and loving life. That is—like how all novels go—until something happens to them. After losing both his mother and grandmother, Yunjae has to cope with being by himself and fights to allow other people into his life.
This story is meant to evoke emotions and to make you see things in such a different point of view that you can’t help but to stop and think. And, of course, that’s one of the best kind of books out there.
Originally, Almond came out in 2017. But the English translated version came out on May 5, 2020—translated by Sandy Joosun Lee. This book quickly went up in popularity after its translated version came to stores/online sites (and, of course, also when BTS member RM read it during their summer/fall reality show In The Soop).
To read more about this novel or to purchase it, you can find it on Amazon here.
4. Seven Years of Darkness by Jeong You-jeong
Seven Years of Darkness, written by Jeong You-jeong and translated by Kim Chi-young, is a thrilling crime novel that takes you through the disturbing twists and turns of the death of a young girl. Each character involved is actively trying to figure out what happened to her while also trying to keep their own secrets about the night of her death to themselves.
It’s a novel that follows dark themes of revenge and murder. It will constantly keep you on the edge of your seat, gripping you tightly until the very end—when all of the answers come out. It holds plot twists that you would never expect and revelations that will leave you shocked. Truly, if you love intense and thrilling novels, then Seven Years of Darkness will definitely be worth checking out.
This book was originally published in 2011. However, the English translated version only came out recently—nine years later—on June 2, 2020. To read more about this novel or to buy it, you can check it out on Amazon here.
5. Bluebeard’s First Wife by Ha Seong-nan
If you’re not into reading full-length novels—which, trust me, I understand; it’s hard to make time for long novels when you have too much going on—then this collection of short stories is just what you’re looking for. There is a total of eleven stories within this collection. And, from what I’ve read, they’re of similar lengths between fifteen to twenty-five pages. Of course, that also depends on which print version you buy, since font sizes change page numbers up a lot.
This collection of work entails paranoia-filled stories and unsettling emotions throughout. It will leave you questioning your own thoughts and your own opinions through the actions of those throughout each story. Each story will hold your attention in ways you’d never expect—fear of the unknown or disgust with the actions of those in the story.
Bluebeard’s First Wife, the collection, was first published in 2002. After Ha’s collection Flowers of Mold, translated into English in 2019, gained steady popularity, the same translator—Janet Hong—translated Bluebeard’s First Wife. This translated collection came out on June 16, 2020.
To read more about this collection or to purchase it, you can find it on Amazon here.
Be sure to check out other translated Korean books!
Though these five books are amazing, there are tons of other translated Korean books that came out in 2020. If you didn’t find one you liked in this list, I’m sure you’ll find one you can enjoy throughout the rest.
If you want to read more about the Korean culture—or perhaps find other things that came from Korea in 2020—you can take a look through our Blog! We have many posts about the Korean culture—whether that’s the fashion that comes from there or perhaps the dramas, I’m positive you’ll find something that you’ll enjoy learning more about.