The best books about South Korea

1 authors have picked their favorite books about South Korea and why they recommend each book. Soon, you will be able to filter this list by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to discover books.

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Book cover of A Team of Their Own: How an International Sisterhood Made Olympic History

A Team of Their Own: How an International Sisterhood Made Olympic History

By Seth Berkman,

Why this book?

A couple of weeks before the 2018 Olympics opened in Pyeongchang, an unlikely women’s South Korean hockey team hastily took shape. Why unlikely? Its roster, bolstered with women of Korean descent from the United States and Canada, suddenly added players from North Korea. Like most sports books, this isn’t really about sports; it’s about identity, belonging, sisterhood, and culture. Miracles on ice can take many forms.

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Book cover of Your Republic Is Calling You

Your Republic Is Calling You

By Young-ha Kim, Chi-Young Kim (translator),

Why this book?

Imagine for a moment that you receive an email that states the following: “Liquidate everything and return immediately.” Now imagine you are a North Korean spy who has lived in South Korea for almost twenty years, and after your handler disappeared more than a decade ago, you’ve heard nothing. Until this email. Is it real? Or has the South Korean CIA found you out and is trying to trick you? What about your wife and your daughter, both completely unaware of your true identity? Your Republic Is Calling You takes place entirely in a single day of this unfortunate spy’s…

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The best mysteries/thrillers by writers of Korean origin

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

Book cover of Wonderland

Wonderland

By Barbara O'Connor,

Why this book?

Barbara O’Connor is one of my very favorite authors for this age group. Her books are funny, sweet, and full of heart! She also does a great job of creating books set in the South without relying on tropes. In Wonderland, two very different girls team up to help a runaway greyhound find a more satisfying home. Mavis is brave and bold but has never had a best friend. Rose is timid and a worrier. She’s never really fit in with the other kids in the neighborhood. And then there’s Henry, a greyhound who’s run away from the Wonderland…

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Book cover of I Am the Subway

I Am the Subway

By Kim Hyo-Eun, Deborah Smith (illustrator),

Why this book?

This was one of my favorite books of 2021. First published in South Korea (where it was a bestseller), I Am the Subway takes readers on a subway ride through Seoul, narrated by the subway itself. “I rattle and clatter over the tracks. Same time, same route every day. Carrying people from one place to another….” We see the passengers get on and off the subway. We hear the subway sounds–ba-dum, ba-dum– and we catch an intimate glimpse into the lives of the people who step on board. I Am a Subway is an unexpectedly beautiful meditation on…

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The best picture books about the infrastructure of our cities: subways and buildings and roads, oh my!

Book cover of Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related: A Memoir

Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related: A Memoir

By Jenny Heijun Wills,

Why this book?

Jenny Heijun Wills was born in South Korea and adopted by a white Canadian family. She not only had to navigate being Asian in a white world, but she also struggled to find her place within a family that sought to give her a safe home. In her twenties, she returned to Korea to meet her birth family. Told in diary form, Wills navigates her journey to find home while fighting language and cultural barriers. It is a raw and emotional story. It makes me think of my own struggles growing up in Detroit. The faces I saw at home…

From the list:

The best memoirs from tickling your funny bone to breaking your heart

Book cover of The Long Season of Rain

The Long Season of Rain

By Helen Kim,

Why this book?

The Long Season of Rain (the title refers to the monsoons that afflict the Korean Peninsula at the start of summer) reminds us that in Hell Chosŏn women remain subservient to men in almost every sphere of society, and learn early on to endure silently instead of speaking out. This novel exemplifies the richness of Korean-American young-adult novels, which often focus on coming of age and the quest for identity. Especially poignant is the author’s use of a naïve narrator, the daughter of a woman who learns that her husband has taken a concubine.
From the list:

The best books about Hell Chosŏn

Book cover of In Enemy Hands

In Enemy Hands

By Larry Zellers,

Why this book?

An excellent companion piece to Deane’s book. American Zellers, newly-married, who had just arrived in South Korea in 1950 to take up a post as a Methodist missionary and teacher, was also captured by the North Koreans. Zellers gives us a fascinating insight into the minds of both prisoners and captors, and the book is a testament to his eternal hope and optimism during the many months of his brutal imprisonment..

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The best books if you want to understand the Korean War

Book cover of Contemporary Korean Art: Tansaekhwa and the Urgency of Method

Contemporary Korean Art: Tansaekhwa and the Urgency of Method

By Joan Kee,

Why this book?

Not only is this book an authoritative account of the Tansaekhwa movement in Koreaa group of abstract painters who gained great acclaim in recent yearsbut it establishes a model of how regional art worlds intersect with global networks. Kee accomplishes this by charting the hierarchical relation between Japan and Korea within Southeast Asia, whose differences were largely erased when "Asian" art was exhibited in Europe. In other words, regional rivalries and specificities are often subsumed into broader regional identities when artworks begin to circulate globally.

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Book cover of Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

By Cho Nam Joo, Jamie Chang (translator),

Why this book?

It came as no surprise to me, having spent so much time in the country, that Korea has long been and still is a sexist society, and this book illustrates that sexism brutally. When I lived there, my good friend, a woman, was a professor of biochemistry, and she struggled in her career the way men didn’t have to. Also, while people thought nothing of my going out to a pub with my male friends, it was somewhat scandalous when I did the same with this woman. In this novel, set in more recent times, a young woman has similar…

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