The best books about Koreans

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Koreans and why they recommend each book.

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Bee-Bim Bop!

By Linda Sue Park, Ho Baek Lee (illustrator),

Book cover of Bee-Bim Bop!

This rollicking, rhyming picturebook is so much fun to read. A little girl and her mother are making the traditional Korean dish of bee-bim bop. The book starts in the grocery store and ends at a table with three generations gathered to eat. It’s basically a recipe—bee-bim bop can actually be made by reading it, and it is delicious. This is always a crowd-pleaser during storytime. Kids can join in on the refrain of bee-bim bop! The energy level escalates as you go!

Bee-Bim Bop!

By Linda Sue Park, Ho Baek Lee (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bee-Bim Bop! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I am a children’s author who loves to eat and bake and cook and gather with others around a table. My writing somehow always has details about people coming together around favorite foods and drinks, enjoying the company of family and friends. Is it any wonder these are the sorts of books I love to read, as well?


I wrote...

Around the Table That Grandad Built

By Melanie Heuiser Hill, Jaime Kim (illustrator),

Book cover of Around the Table That Grandad Built

What is my book about?

In a unique take on the cumulative classic This Is the House That Jack Built, a family gathers with friends and neighbors to share a meal around a table that brims with associations: napkins sewn by Mom, glasses from Mom and Dad’s wedding, silverware gifted to Dad by his grandma long ago. Not to mention the squash from the garden, the bread baked by Gran, and the pies made by the young narrator (with a little help). Serving up a diverse array of dishes and faces, this warm and welcoming story is poised to become a savored part of Thanksgiving traditions to come.

A beautifully illustrated celebration of bounty and gratitude, family and friendship, perfect for the holidays and every day.

The Surrendered

By Chang-Rae Lee,

Book cover of The Surrendered

What happens after you survive the atrocities and randomness of war? Chang-rae Lee examines the deep intricacies of this question and its ramifications, portraying three survivors (Korean War, Sino-Japan War) whose lives mesh at an orphanage somewhere in South Korea after liberation. From that common crossroad, the lives of Sylvie, a missionary wife, Hector, a G.I., and June, a Korean orphan, are forever intertwined, shadowed by pervasive doom pitted against the human need to endure. Lee’s intense focus on physicality seems to reflect the characters’ bodily will to continue life, even as their hearts are blackened by tragedy. It is an intense and absorbing read, frightening for what we do to ourselves and how, despite all the darkness and violence we create in the name of war, some continue to persist in a semblance of life, and helplessly pass along the damage of war to those they touch as they…

The Surrendered

By Chang-Rae Lee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Surrendered as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

June Han has forged a life thousands of miles from her birthplace: she has built a business in New York, survived a husband, borne a child. But her past holds more secrets than she has ever been able to tell, and thirty years after her escape from war-ravaged Korea, the time has come for her to confront them.

Hector Brennan, fighter, drinker and 'failure grand and total', is the man who long ago saved June's life. And between them lies the story of the beautiful, damaged Sylvie Tanner, whose elusive love they both once sought. On a journey that takes…


Who am I?

Eugenia Kim’s debut novel, The Calligrapher’s Daughter, won the 2009 Borders Original Voices Award, was shortlisted for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and was a critic’s pick by the Washington Post. For that novel, which is set during the Japanese Colonial Period in Korea, 1910-1945, and for her second novel (below), whose first half is set during the Korean War, 1950-1953, she read more than 500 books and twice traveled to Korea in order to accurately depict these little-known slices of history.


I wrote...

The Kinship of Secrets

By Eugenia Kim,

Book cover of The Kinship of Secrets

What is my book about?

In 1948 Najin and Calvin Cho, with their young daughter Miran, travel from South Korea to the United States for an extended visit. Wary of the challenges that they will face, they make the difficult decision to leave their infant daughter, Inja, behind with extended family; soon, they hope, they will return to her.

But then war breaks out in Korea, and there is no end in sight to the separation. Miran grows up in prosperous American suburbia, under the shadow of the daughter left behind, as Inja grapples in her war-torn land with ties to a family she doesn’t remember. Najin and Calvin desperately seek a reunion with Inja, but are the bonds of love strong enough to reconnect their family over distance, time, and war? And as deep family secrets are revealed, will everything they long for be upended?

Nothing to Envy

By Barbara Demick,

Book cover of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

I met Barbara at an international conference on human rights called Oslo Freedom Forum, in Norway, where we were both speakers at that conference. After talking to her, I read her book and learned more about the heart-breaking situation in North Korea. It was a real eye-opener for me and inspired me to see the courage of North Korean refugees who escaped the atrocities and speak out for their own homeland. 

Nothing to Envy

By Barbara Demick,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Nothing to Envy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I'm a human rights activist from Burma. When I was 14, I was forced to flee to Thailand because of an attack by the Burmese military and ended up in a refugee camp. As one of Burma's leading democracy activists in Europe, I campaign for the promotion of human rights, democracy, and development back home in Burma. Together with my family, I set up Phan Foundation which aims to preserve Karen culture, promote human rights, fight poverty and provide education for Karen people. This is in memory of my mother Nant Kyin Shwe and my father Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan, who was assassinated by agents of the Burmese military.


I wrote...

Little Daughter: A Memoir of Survival in Burma and the West

By Zoya Phan,

Book cover of Little Daughter: A Memoir of Survival in Burma and the West

What is my book about?

Zoya Phan was born in the remote jungles of Burma to the Karen tribe, which for decades has been resisting Burma’s brutal military junta. At age 14, her peaceful childhood was shattered when the Burmese army attacked. So began two terrible years of running, as Zoya was forced to join thousands of refugees hiding in the jungle. Her family scattered, her brothers went deeper into the war, and Zoya, close to death, found shelter at a Thai refugee camp, where she stayed until 2004 when she fled to the U.K. and claimed asylum. There, in a twist of fate, she became the public face of the Burmese people’s fight for freedom. This is her inspirational story.

Pachinko

By Min Jin Lee,

Book cover of Pachinko

Wow! I felt intimately connected to the family depicted in this turbulent but big-hearted saga. I rooted for them at every turn, from their humble beginnings in Korea through their struggles as immigrants in Japan. The world changes dramatically from 1910 to 1989, but despite tragedy, they hold tight to their values of loyalty, hard work, independence, and honesty. Inspiring.

Pachinko

By Min Jin Lee,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Pachinko as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

* The million-copy bestseller*
* National Book Award finalist *
* One of the New York Times's 10 Best Books of 2017 *
* Selected for Emma Watson's Our Shared Shelf book club *

'This is a captivating book... Min Jin Lee's novel takes us through four generations and each character's search for identity and success. It's a powerful story about resilience and compassion' BARACK OBAMA.

Yeongdo, Korea 1911. In a small fishing village on the banks of the East Sea, a club-footed, cleft-lipped man marries a fifteen-year-old girl. The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja…


Who am I?

I’ve lived in small towns and capital cities and gone to school on four continents, so I love books in which the location is practically a character in the story. When moving, I struggle to put down roots and feel legitimate in my new home. Writing about old homes helps. While living in New England, I wrote my Jana Bibi trilogy, set in India. Now in New York state, I’m setting a new novel in my native New Hampshire. I’ve been a Jill of all Trades: teaching, software, editing, fact-checking, social science research, and, most happily, fiction-writing. I’m also an amateur musician and an avid foreign language buff.


I wrote...

Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes

By Betsy Woodman,

Book cover of Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes

What is my book about?

Scottish-born Janet Laird (Jana to her friends) inherits her grandfather’s house in an Indian hill station and moves in with her loyal housekeeper and savvy parrot. Her own home, at last! But when the town is threatened by a government dam, Jana has to help to attract tourists and put it on the map. She hangs out her fortune-telling shingle—and Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes is born. Will the ploy work? Readers all over the world responded to the novel’s humor, drama, and Bollywood-style high spirits.  

The Foreign Student

By Susan Choi,

Book cover of The Foreign Student

In 1950s Sewanee, Chang and Katherine slowly fall in love and find that the Souths of Korea and Tennessee are not that different after all, both subject to lingering issues of class, family, race, and civil war. I love the poetic language in this novel, as well as its ambitious story and the complexity invested in every relation.

The Foreign Student

By Susan Choi,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Foreign Student as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

A Korean American author myself, I published my first book in 2001, and in the ensuing years I’ve been heartened by the number of Korean Americans who have made a splash with their debut novels, as these five writers did. All five have ventured outside of what I’ve called the ethnic literature box, going far beyond the traditional stories expected from Asian Americans. They established a trend that is happily growing. 


I wrote...

The Partition

By Don Lee,

Book cover of The Partition

What is my book about?

Twenty-one years after the publication of my debut collection Yellow, I return to the short story form for my sixth book, The Partition.

The Partition is an updated exploration of Asian American identity, this time with characters who are presumptive model minorities in the arts, academia, and media. Spanning decades, these nine stories traverse an array of cities, from Tokyo to Boston, Honolulu to El Paso, touching upon transient encounters in local bars, restaurants, and hotels. Culminating in a three-story cycle about a Hollywood actor, The Partition examines heartbreak, identity, family, and relationships, the characters searching for answers to universal questions: Where do I belong? How can I find love? What defines an authentic self? 

The Guest

By Hwang Sok-yong, Kyung-Ja Chun (translator), Maya West (translator)

Book cover of The Guest

In The Guest we hear the voices of the victims of a massacre that took place shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, a massacre blamed on the UN (mostly American) military but actually perpetrated by Koreans on Koreans. To allow us access to the stories of these victims the author uses a ritual in which a practitioner of native Korean spirituality channels the voices of those who have died an unnatural or premature death and who continue to wander in the ether until they are able to communicate their stories to those of us still living. Only then can they find closure and settle in the hereafter.

The Guest

By Hwang Sok-yong, Kyung-Ja Chun (translator), Maya West (translator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Guest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who are we?

A couple who have been claimed by Korea—Bruce as a US Peace Corps volunteer there and Ju-Chan as a native Korean and an English teacher—and its culture, society, history, and especially literary heritage. We have been translating modern Korean fiction into English since 1980. Bruce was fated to become involved with Korean literature by virtue of being born on October 9, the day in 1446 when Great King Sejong promulgated (officially announced) the creation of the Korean alphabet, hangŭl, to the people of Korea.


We wrote...

Mina

By Kim Sagwa, Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton (translator),

Book cover of Mina

What is our book about?

A novel about the love-hate relationship between two high school girls, penned by the author who best understands the rage that permeates Hell Chosŏn—the underside of the South Korean Economic Miracle, evidenced by the highest suicide rate among the OECD countries; a negative birthrate; and a divorce rate hovering at 30 percent. (Chosŏn is the name of the most recent monarchy to rule the Korean Peninsula—from 1392 to 1910.)

The Grass Roof

By Younghill Kang,

Book cover of The Grass Roof

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.

The Grass Roof

By Younghill Kang,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Grass Roof as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Text: English, German (translation)

Who am I?

Eugenia Kim’s debut novel, The Calligrapher’s Daughter, won the 2009 Borders Original Voices Award, was shortlisted for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and was a critic’s pick by the Washington Post. For that novel, which is set during the Japanese Colonial Period in Korea, 1910-1945, and for her second novel (below), whose first half is set during the Korean War, 1950-1953, she read more than 500 books and twice traveled to Korea in order to accurately depict these little-known slices of history.


I wrote...

The Kinship of Secrets

By Eugenia Kim,

Book cover of The Kinship of Secrets

What is my book about?

In 1948 Najin and Calvin Cho, with their young daughter Miran, travel from South Korea to the United States for an extended visit. Wary of the challenges that they will face, they make the difficult decision to leave their infant daughter, Inja, behind with extended family; soon, they hope, they will return to her.

But then war breaks out in Korea, and there is no end in sight to the separation. Miran grows up in prosperous American suburbia, under the shadow of the daughter left behind, as Inja grapples in her war-torn land with ties to a family she doesn’t remember. Najin and Calvin desperately seek a reunion with Inja, but are the bonds of love strong enough to reconnect their family over distance, time, and war? And as deep family secrets are revealed, will everything they long for be upended?

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