ah, i apologise for taking so long to reply to this; i wanted to reply to it sooner and started writing a reply a month ago; but the truth is that my knowledge of modern korean literature is so limited and i wanted to read up more on it first. (unfortunately, that didn’t happen.)
as it goes, i’ve only read two korean authors thus far (and in translation, it must be noted), and i’d recommend them both — kim young-ha (i have the right to destroy myself and your republic is calling you) and shin kyung-sook (please look after mom) (i believe shin has another book being published by knopf this spring, i’ll be right there, and another novel by kim was published last year, black flower).
for kim, on a narrative level, i’d say that your republic is calling you is more accessible, whereas i have the right to destroy myself is more interesting tonally and conceptually. when i read i have the right to destroy myself, i was reminded a lot about haruki murakami actually, but any similar tonal qualities disappeared in your republic is calling you. of the two, i think i personally enjoyed i have the right to destroy myself better because it has a quality that kind of sticks to you, but i don’t think it necessarily achieves all its potential. it was kim’s debut novel, after all.
for shin, i loved please look after mom — i talked about it briefly in my 2012 recap — and i think shin does a stellar job at capturing and portraying post-war korea and, specifically, post-war korean motherhood. i didn’t really care for the ending, though, but the ending wasn’t bad or lackluster enough to reduce my enthusiasm for the novel, but i also admit that please look after mom resonated with me very strongly on a personal level because the character of the mother is very much my paternal grandmother. the discussion around the novel is interesting, too.
as for other great modern korean literature, i’m still very new to it myself. i found this fabulous post (“what to start reading in translated korean literature”), so i’d recommend starting with that. i’m sorry i can’t make any more suggestions from my own personal reading at the moment, but i will definitely be reading more korean lit and posting quotes from books i read as well as my thoughts about them! i just picked up hwang sok-young, who i am super stoked to read!
again, my apologies for the super slow reply. i hope you haven’t disappeared and given up on me ever getting back to you … T_T
(i feel like i should also note here that i might be really slow at replying, but, if you ask me anything about books, i will always reply. i love talking books! it just … might take me a bit.)
(also, i believe gong ji-young’s our happy time has been picked up to be published in english in spring 2014!)
picked up haruki murakami’s travel essays today, except they’ve been translated into korean because, to the best of my knowledge (as informed by google searches, the most recent of which was a few months ago), they aren’t available in english. also started reading shin kyung-sook’s please look after mom in its original korean while i was at the bookstore earlier today, and i loved how it read in korean — the voice is so much lovelier and powerful in korean, i thought, and i’ll probably go back and pick it up as well — or, you know, order it over the internet because i think it’s cheaper on-line …
(lest this create the illusion that my korean is fluent or near-fluent, i feel like i must clarify that my korean just barely hovers at conversational. as far as reading goes, i can read hangeul just fine, but my comprehension is pretty low, but this never stopped me from buying books in korean because my philosophy is that, if i want to improve my korean, the most effective way for me to do so is simply to plunge myself in it.)
i started reading kim young-ha (translated) last weekend, and one of my lasting impressions thus far is that, tonally, he reminds me a lot of haruki murakami. i got that feeling really strongly in i have the right to destroy myself, although it’s somewhat less so in your republic is calling you, and i do wonder how much of that has to do with translation. i mean, the similarities i find don’t really have anything to do with writing style necessarily or the overall narratives but the feeling their writing emits and the tone it captures, and the unfortunate truth is that things are inevitably lost in translation.
(i didn’t know the korean titles of kim’s novels, so i couldn’t browse them whilst in the bookstore earlier today. i’ll definitely go back, though, with the titles in hand.)
(and i still dream of one day being able to read murakami in his original japanese.)
anyway, it’ll probably take me years to get through murakami’s travel essays, but i’m happy to have them. and i’m excited to (re)read please look after mom in korean soon. and, one day, i hope my korean improves … but i’ve been saying that for quite some time now …