Like CATCHER IN THE RYE or EAST OF EDEN of their times, I think ALMOND speaks to our times ; a time when we are so bombarded with social media and information that feeling numb is the norm. This unique coming-of-age story is about a boy without emotions but who, nonetheless, through motherly and grandmotherly love, practice, diligence and persistence, learns how to become ever so humane with more guts and bravery than we could imagine. A boy born with a condition where he cannot feel emotions, Yunjae has trouble feeling emotions because of his naturally small amygdalae, also called the almonds. He cannot even feel fear or anger. He is cared for by his young single mother who has struggled financially but is making a go of it by opening her own second hand bookstore, and his steely strong grandmother, who has has accepted her wayward daughter and baby despite past argument and is as devoted and loving as any grandmother could be. Grandmother and mother drill into him pointers for socially appropriate responses such as laughing when others do so and saying, “Thank you” when others do. They leave post-it notes everywhere to remind him of what normal human responses are and how to act. They just want him to fit in and be accepted. They worry about how he will manage in the world. But, thanks to their devoted love, he manages to grow without causing much trouble. But on his sixteenth birthday, Christmas Eve, he loses them to a shocking, random act of violence. “Why did he kill my family, why?” Yunjae tries to find answers to the tragedy but to no avail. He is left alone in the world, until one day troubled 17 year old Gon appears in his life. Gon lost his family in the crowd when he was young, leading him to wander from one shelter after another ever since. He is reunited with his family after thirteen years, but he has become a troublemaker full of rage. Gon vents his anger on Yunjae only to be stumped by the emotionless reaction. To Yunjae, Gon sparks his curiosity rather than hatred. Yunjae thinks if he gets to know Gon who is full of strong emotions, he could somehow learn emotions himself. And so, the two develop an unlikely friendship that no one can understand. As Yunjae meets and interacts with different individuals such as his neighbor Dr. Shim and his classmate Dora, something slowly changes in him… and when Gon’s life is at risk, it is Yunjae who steps outside every comfort zone and way of being he has lived before, to become a most unlikely hero.
Krys Lee is the author of Drifting House and How I Became a North Korean. She is a recipient of the Rome Prize and the Story Prize Spotlight Award, the Honor Title in Adult Fiction Literature from the Asian/Pacific American Libraries Association, and a finalist for the BBC International Story Prize. Her fiction, journalism, and literary translations have appeared in Granta, The Kenyon Review, Narrative, San Francisco Chronicle, Corriere della Sera, andThe Guardian, among others. She is an assistant professor of creative writing and literature at Yonsei University, Underwood International College, in South Korea.
The 52-year-old, one of South Korea's best-selling thriller writers, says in an e-mail interview through a translator: "Something hot and heavy rumbled at the bottom of my chest and I couldn't breathe. I began to wail. Never before or since have I sobbed like that over a book."
She decided then that she wanted to write stories so absorbing, they would make readers forget where they were. "I want them to spend all night, their souls burning, and greet dawn, spent. I want the world to burn with passion through me."
Jeong has delved into the darkness of the human mind in her novels, from vengeance-twisted fathers to serial killers. "The darkness of humanity is the force propelling my work," she says.
Read more of the article here.
"The Plotters hums with menace, humor, heartbreak, and savagery. The killers and schemers haunting its pages range from dens of villainy to desperate scenes of quiet domesticity, offering a view of the world from the depths of its own shadow. The result is wild, weird, and completely engrossing."
Jedediah Berry, author of The Manual of Detection
"The Plotters tells the story of Renseng, a jaded assassin who startles himself by realizing—somewhat belatedly—that he has a moral code, a sense of honor, a soul. All of these will prove to be perilous liabilities in his world. Un-Su Kim is a tremendous writer, and he’s crafted a smart, stylish, and surprisingly moving thriller.”
Scott Smith, author of A Simple Plan and The Ruins
“The Plotters by Un-su Kim is a work of literary genius; a quirky, compelling, intelligent, darkly funny, highly original and thought-provoking thriller like nothing I've read. Gorgeous prose elevates the basest of characters and answers the question: How can ours be a life well-lived if we only do as we’re told? I loved this book!”
Karen Dionne, author of The Marsh King’s Daughter
"The Plotters is what would happen if you took the best South Korean crime cinema and distilled it into words. A smart but lightning fast thriller that keeps the pressure on to the very last page."
Brian Evenson, author of Last Days and A Collapse of Horses
"Imagine a mash-up of Tarantino and Camus set in contemporary Seoul, and you have The Plotters. Filled with unexpected humor and exquisite fight scenes."
Louisa Luna, author of Two Girls Down
“Now this is a story with power and style. The one-two punches of humor are a nice bonus. You’ll be laughing out loud every five minutes. You’ll find yourself contemplating the meaning of life, death, and desire for a long, long time. Make sure you leave your evening free, because you won’t be able to put this book down once you start.”
You-jeong Jeong, author of The Good Son
“A book of revelations for murder both violent yet graceful, dark yet poetic. With sharp humor and sparkling prose, Un-su Kim stylishly spins the tale of the extraordinary life of an ordinary assassin.”
J.M. Lee, author of The Investigation
Helen Garnons-Williams at 4th Estate has pre-empted Marilyn and Me by Korean author Ji-min Lee. 4th Estate has UK and Commonwealth rights through Barbara Zitwer, and will publish in May 2019. The translator is Chi Young Kim, responsible for the English version of Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin, winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize. Mary Gaule at Harper Perennial signed NA rights. Emily Hayward-Whitlock of the Artists Partnership in London is handling film rights.
The novel centres on Alice, a translator for the American forces in Seoul who is asked to interpret for Marilyn Monroe as the actress visits Korea for a tour. Alice is also inveigled into becoming the bait in an operation to entrap a communist spy.
Garnons-Williams said: "[A] compelling and surprising story of damage and survival, grief and unexpected solace... Alice, raw and wry and wearing her grief like armour, is a wonderful character, and her experiences offer a fascinating - and timely - insight into an extraordinary time and place. We are thrilled to be publishing this darkly beautiful novel."
Two Ways to See Every Story
The two sides to The Good Son are told by mother and son. Once Yu-jin discovers and begins to read his mother’s journal and offers the reader his own take on each chapter of the story that she tells, stroke by (alternately conflicting and complementary) stroke a more complete picture is formed.
The final mystery of The Good Son is genre. Is it a psycho-noir or a tricky amnesia-tinged locked-room mystery? Either subgenre can support unreliability on the part of the narrator, and even after crucial bits of memory are recovered the mystery remains until the resolution. And that resolution is satisfyingly chilling and, depending on the reader, thrilling.
Read the full review on LA Review of Books.
Women in Translation month: a compilation*
A compilation of reviews for Women in Translation month (August 2018).
The Court Dancer by Kyung-Sook Shin (Korean)
Bride and Groom by Alisa Ganieva (Russian)
The Good Son by Jeong You-jeong (Korean)
The Emissary by Yoko Tawada (Japanese)
Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada (Japanese)
The White Book by Han Kang (Korean)
Abandon by Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay (Bangla)
Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin (Chinese)
Zindaginama by Krishna Sobti (Hindi)
Moshi, Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto (Japanese)
Cigarette Girl by Ratih Kumala (Bahasa Indonesia)
A Greater Music by Bae Suah (Korean)
Mannequin by Ch’oe Yun (Korean)
NPR...[an] atmospheric, tragic novel ... Sorrow threads itself through the pages of The Court Dancer, yet there is a richness both to the period and the narrative as beautiful as any silk fan. Kyung-Sook Shin has become one of South Korea's most popular authors, and for good reason. Her deep understanding of the subtleties of the human heart effortlessly crosses borders and informs her portrait of a different place and a faraway time.
READ FULL REVIEW >>
BOOKLIST ONLINE...Orphaned but adoringly raised by a royal attendant’s sister, coddled since childhood by the queen, taught French by a missionary-priest, Jin leaves Korea and settles in Paris. Her new life provides unimagined social, literary, even commercial opportunities, but the relentless exotification of her very person emphasizes her growing alienation. Her return home is bittersweet, as she’s treated like a foreigner, but events turn horrific when she’s caught in the violent Japanese takeover of the Joseon court ... The Court Dancer’s latest journey west should command substantial, eager audiences.
READ FULL REVIEW >>
POSITIVENICOLE Y. CHUNG,
THE WASHINGTON POST
Inspired by the true story of a late-19th-century court dancer, Shin’s novel explores themes of exoticism, assimilation and identity ... The novel delves into major historical events, including 1884’s Gapsin Coup and the Imo rebellion in 1882, while the power struggle between China and Japan for influence over Korea looms in the background. By placing Korean history beside a Western narrative, Shin highlights the disparity between Europe and the more isolated Asian nation. At its core, The Court Dancerexamines what countries lose in identity in exchange for technological advancement.
READ FULL REVIEW >>
Yi Jin finds herself at the heart of the diplomatic, aristocratic, and artistic circles of Paris in the Belle Époque, writing her detailed observations of Paris life in unsent letters to Queen Min, embroidering fans to be sold at the Bon Marché department store, and spending time in the company of writer Guy de Maupassant – playing chess, going for walks, and even visiting the Paris morgue (a popular 19th century tourist destination) ... In The Court Dancer, Shin Kyung-sook offers a rich and detailed look at 19th century France and Korea though the eyes of Yi Jin. Jin is a keen observer of everything around her ... Shin’s novel has a power that stems from the idea that, in the whirlwind of grand, worldly events, sometimes, the smallest, most unpredictable things can change the course of a life. The book is a fascinating woven account of Jin’s and Korea’s simultaneous navigation through the final years of the Korean Empire.
READ FULL REVIEW >>
Un-su Kim is the rising star of Korean literature. With shades of Murakami, The Plotters is a complex, fascinating moral tale about the changing of the guard in a corrupt underworld—a page-turner filled with black humour and compassion for a fallen world.
If ever there was a novel to keep readers on their toes it is this one. I was captivated by The Plotters‘ kaleidoscopic contradictions.
From the sensitive, bookish souled Reseng who ‘grew up in a library crawling with assassins, hired guns and bounty hunters’ and taught himself to read despite his guardian Old Racoon warning him ‘reading books will doom you to a life of fear and shame’, to the trackers, plotters and myriad other puzzling characters that inhabit the meat market.
Dirty, rank, wretched and revolting. That was the meat market. Pointless compassion and sorrow, endlessly spawning apathy, and aimless pent-up anger swept around like dead leaves in autumn until ultimately self-combusting. The final stop for fallen lives.
Can a description of filth and scum be more evocative, more poetic and lyrical? I think not.
Can readers feel empathy for characters who choose to fund their lifestyles from the misery of others? One would think not, but yes you can… if the characters (and context) are as well developed and multifaceted as Un-su Kim’s. It takes great skill and nuance to pull something like that off.
And remember, this is a novel in translation. Bravo Sora Kim-Russell.
Murder was quiet and simple in the plotting world. There were no huge explosions like in the movies, and rarely any messy car accidents or hails of bullets. It was as silent as snowfall in the night, as secretive as a cat’s footsteps.
Read more of the review on BookloverBookReviews.com
The winners of the 2017 Shirley Jackson Awards have been announced!
The Shirley Jackson Awards are literary awards celebrating the legacy of author Shirley Jackson (1916–1965) and are handed out at Readercon. each year. The Shirley Jackson Awards are awarded in recognition of “outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic” during the previous year. The winners are appointed by a jury of editors, writers, critics, and academics.
The 2017 Shirley Jackson Award for best novel went to The Hole by Hye-young Pyun (Arcade Publishing) in translation by Sora Kim-Russell. Meanwhile, the award for best novella ended in a tie between Samantha Schweblin’s Fever Dream (Riverhead Books) in translation by Megan McDowell, and Lindsey Drager’s The Lost Daughter Collective (Dzanc Books).
4th Estate has pre-empted a novel inspired by Marilyn Monroe and her Korean translator.
Helen Garnons-Williams, publishing director at the HarperCollins imprint, acquired UK and Commonwealth rights in Marilyn and Me by Korean novelist and screenwriter Ji-min Lee,in a pre-empt from Barbara Zitwer at Barbara Zitwer Agency. The translator is the Man Asian Literary Prize-winning translator Chi Young Kim. 4th Estate will publish Marilyn & Me in Spring 2019.
Set in 1954, in the aftermath of the Korean war, Marilyn and Me unfolds over the course of four days, when Marilyn Monroe took time out from her honeymoon with Joe DiMaggio to tour Korea, performing for the US soldiers stationed there. Her translator is Alice, a typist on the US base - where she is the only Korean woman making a living off the American military without being a prostitute - although everyone assumes she is. As these two women form an unlikely friendship, the story of Alice’s traumatic experiences in the war emerges, and when she becomes embroiled in a sting operation involving the entrapment of a Communist spy she is forced to confront the past she has been trying so hard to forget.
Lee is a screenwriter in Korea and author of several novels while Chi Young has translated various books including Please Look After Mom (Knopf) for which she won the Man, Asian Literary Prize in 2012, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly (Penguin) and The Good Son (Penguin).
Garnons-Williams described Marilyn & Me as “a compelling and surprising story of damage and survival, grief and unexpected solace”.
“Alice, raw and wry and wearing her grief like armour, is a wonderful character, and her experiences offer a fascinating – and timely - insight into an extraordinary time and place. We are thrilled to be publishing this darkly beautiful novel.”
The news follows another 4th Estate acquisition of a Korean crime thriller in March, snapped up by commissioning editor Anna Kelly as part of a five-way auction. Korean authors are reportedly “reinventing the thriller” according to the Guardian, introducing an alternative to Scandi Noir.
The Man Asian Literary Prize was an annual literary award between 2007 and 2012, given to the best novel by an Asian writer.
I am the agent of the Korean thriller, THE GOOD SON by you Jeong Jeong. First and foremost, I want to thank you and Jimmy for being a champion of the book. I thought you might find this interesting that the US EMBASSY in Seoul has picked up and tweeted for people to VOTE for THE GOOD SON for Jimmy’s book club! I never heard of an embassy getting behind a book and a TV show – not even Oprah! Clearly, this has gone beyond just a book. This has become a political movement. Thanks again for your support.
The Court Dancer
By Kyung-Sook Shin. Tr. by Anton Hur
Aug. 2018. 368p. Pegasus, $25.95 (9781681777870)
Man Asian Literary Prize–winning Shin (The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness, 2015) alchemizes a brief
mention in a French diplomat’s book about his turn-of-the-century Korean tenure into a gorgeous epic that seamlessly combines history and fiction to create a hybrid masterpiece. In 1888, France’s first official legate to Korea, Victor Collin de Plancy, arrives in Seoul and falls in love at first word, a single exchange of “Bonjour” with Yi Jin, a revered traditional dancer of the Joseon Dynasty (Korea’s final royal court). Blinded by obsession, Victor dares to ask the emperor for her unprecedented release to accompany him back to France. Orphaned but adoringly raised by a royal attendant’s sister, coddled since childhood by the
queen, taught French by a missionary-priest, Jin leaves Korea and settles in Paris. Her new life provides unimagined social, literary, even commercial opportunities, but the relentless exotification of her very person emphasizes her growing alienation. Her return home is bittersweet, as she’s treated like a foreigner, but events turn horrific when she’s caught in the violent Japanese takeover of the Joseon court. Originally published in Korea in 2007 to best-selling success and smoothly Anglophoned by Anton Hur in his translated-novel debut, the court dancer’s latest journey west should command substantial, eager audiences.
— Terry Hong