The best books about Korea 📚

Browse the best books on Korea as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of This Burns My Heart

This Burns My Heart

By Samuel Park

Why this book?

This book will capture you with a heroine who is both irresistible and flawed, and will engross you with increasing twists in a triangle of love and sacrifice. The story explores how a fateful choice colors a decade of marriage, and challenges a young woman’s ambition already constrained by traditional Korean culture. Sam Park paints all the flavors of post-war Korea in this vivid debut, and his understanding and expression of the human heart is universal.

From the list:

The best historical fiction set in Korea by Korean American authors

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Book cover of The Grass Roof

The Grass Roof

By Younghill Kang

Why this book?

This is an autobiographical novel of a scholar’s son’s coming of age in a small village during the Japanese occupation, though that is felt with some distance. Kang focuses on classical education in that era, traditions for holidays and ceremonies, schooling, friends, family dynamic, a detailed account of the March First Independence Movement Day, and finally emigration to America as a young man. It is a little-known prequel to Kang's book, East Goes West, a seminal work in Korean American literature, which covers his immigration to New York in the 1920s through the war years.

From the list:

The best historical fiction set in Korea by Korean American authors

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Book cover of Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

By Guy Delisle, Helge Dascher

Why this book?

The Canadian animator offers a revealing account of his two-month trip to North Korea to oversee a cartooning project. In deceptively simple words and drawings, Delisle gives us a front-row view of this complex, enigmatic totalitarian society. Everyday life in Pyongyang is rich fodder for this hilariously grumpy author. What’s it really like living in North Korea? Read this book and weep—and laugh. 

From the list:

The best memoir-based graphic novels

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Book cover of Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History

Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History

By Bruce Cumings

Why this book?

Cumings’ books on Korea—there are a number of them—could fill every spot on a list of the five best books to understand the DPRK. Cumings is the leading Western expert on Korean modern history, and Korea’s Place in the Sun is the best place to start. I love every one of Cumings’ books, and this one especially. He is a superb writer and doesn’t pander to established opinions.

From the list:

The best books to understand the DPRK

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Book cover of The Great East Asian War and the Birth of the Korean Nation

The Great East Asian War and the Birth of the Korean Nation

By JaHyun Kim Haboush

Why this book?

This book argues that the Japanese invasion of the 1590s was the single most significant event in creating the idea of a Korean “nation,” as opposed to a kingdom ruled by one family with the help of powerful noble families. The author highlights the government’s use of vernacular proclamations and notices (rather than the literary Chinese normally used by the court), to show how people were mobilized to resist the Japanese invaders. In the process, she discusses the emergence of guerrilla bands known as uibyong and how the memory of these groups and their exploits, often exaggerated, help create a…

From the list:

The best books on the Great East Asian War of 1592-1598

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Book cover of When My Name Was Keoko

When My Name Was Keoko

By Linda Sue Park

Why this book?

I grew up in Europe and have heard and read much about World War II in Europe. But I did not realize how similar this was to life in (South) Korea under Japanese occupation. This book was an eye-opener for me, told in two voices – Keoko and her brother who are both given Japanese names and can no longer speak their own language. A gripping novel that makes a good read, even for adults.

From the list:

The best books for children that everyone should read

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