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Whether you’re looking for a gripping tale, a literary masterpiece, or an insightful look into the hermit Kingdom of North Korea, here’s my pick of what to add to your Kindle bookshelf this year. These are my top 10 must-read Korean Books. I narrowed my selection down to award winners, bestsellers, and some of my all time favorites.

If I have missed anything from the list I would love to hear from you down below. Are there any Korean books you would like to add? If so, please get in touch!

Human Acts

Human Acts is a must-read for anyone interested in South Korea. Han Kang has crafted a literary masterpiece using sublime poetic and beautiful writing while at the same time describing the heartbreaking and harrowing scenes so vividly. Human acts explain a time not long ago when Choo-Doo Hwan’s government brutally crushed a large protest in the city of Gwangju. We learn through the six different chapters (Or acts), that freedom always comes at a price. And in 1980, the people of Gwangju paid with their lives.

The uprising would turn into one of the deadliest protests Korea has ever witnessed. Countless murders and immense suffering would leave a lasting scar on the nation. What should have been a peaceful protest ended up being one of Korea’s bloodiest. This book is somber in tone, with a plethora of gut-wrenching scenes depicted, however, there is a thin slither of hope that runs through each chapter; a fragment of love and solidarity that the government couldn’t take out of the people.

Nothing to Envy

Another book on the list is by the award-winning journalist Barbara Demrick. The book is called Nothing to Envy and it is a fascinating, yet deeply moving insight into the ordinary lives in North Korea. Demrick explores what it means to live in a brutal dictatorship, and we learn that it’s terrifying. Demrick explains how this brutal regime controls people into submission. For example, TV dials are meticulously fixed to the government channels, so citizens are spoon-fed propaganda every day. Demrick insightfully talks about the mythological stories which the regime invented to create a god like illusion around the leaders.

But if you want to learn about the history of North Korea you might want to pick up something else. In Nothing to Envy, Demrick doesn’t dwell too much on Korean history, but instead, focuses more on the people. This is gives us a profound insight into North Korea. Especially during the country’s famine which lasted from 1994 to 1998.

As we peer further into the hermit Kingdom during the 90’s we learn how people were forced to sell everything to survive.That bicycle you once had. Gone. What about the Table and TV stand? Gone. Clothes and wardrobes were also stripped down for food. Along with anything else with any material value.

As we move around the country, Demrick introduces us to more heartfelt stories. We learn that doctors donated their own blood, rural citizens crushed down inner tree bark to make flour and city dwellers ate obscure bones in salty stews. Death was alive, and the stench was everywhere. Personal stories flow so naturally through out the book, and we bounce from one perspective to another with ease.

Nothing to Envy is engrossing, and deeply moving; it will make you thankful for the life you have.

10 Must Read Korean Books

1. The Vegetarian, By Han Kang

Goodreads review: 3.60

2. A River In Darkness, One Man’s Escape From North Korea, By Masail Ishikawa

Good Reads Review: 4.25

3. Crying In H Mart By, Michelle Zauner

Good Read Review 4.33

4. Cursed Bunny By, Bora Chung

Good Read Review: 4.10

5. Human Acts By, Han Kang

Good Read Review score 4.21

6. Escape From Camp 14 By, Blaine Harden

Good Read Review 3.98

7. Nothing to Envy, Ordinary Lives In North Korea By, Barbra Demick

Good Read Review 4.43

8. Pachinko By, Min Jin Lee

Good Read Review 4.30

9. The Island Of Sea Women By, Lisa See

Good Read Review 4.28

10. Kim Jiyoung Born 1982, By Cho Nam-Joo

Translated by Jamie Chang

Good Read Review 4.2

If you travel to Korea, make sure you buy a Kindle. You can find English books in bookstores like Kybo, but I have found that most of the books are overpriced; sometimes you can’t even find the book you want.

My preference is the Kindle paperwhite. But any Kindle does the job, and then you will have access to the thousands of books on the Amazon Kindle store.

Amazon has recently released the new generation of Kindle paperwhites. I managed to snag one while in Korea on Coupang.

How is it you ask? Well I can say it’s my favorite Kindle so far!

The 6.8-inch display and the adjustable warm light have made a huge difference to my reading experience.

Where to buy a kindle in Korea?

I purchased my Kindle on Coupang. You can also buy Kindles on G-market and Amazon.

Final word

Thanks for reading my 10 best Korean books to read before coming to Korea. If you can think of any more that we should add to the list please write in the comment section below.

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