Korean mini book reviews #1

This blog is mainly dedicated to learning and reading in Japanese, but I am also a Korean learner! My reading level in Korean is lower than my Japanese level, but I am trying to improve by practicing. I don’t want to write full book reviews of the Korean books I read, so I decided to group several books in one post.

아몬드 by 손원평

This book is about Yunjae, who has a brain condition that makes it impossible for him to feel emotions or to identify and understand other people’s emotions. This is a coming-of-age novel that is extremely well done.

To me, the most interesting point is that Yunjae is our narrator, we see the world through his eyes, but he cannot comment on or sympathise with other people’s feelings. And in this novel, the other characters are each in their own way a whirlpool of contradictory emotions. Yunjae’s mother is an incredibly interesting character, Gon, Yunjae’s friend, must be suffering more than we can really grasp, Gon’s father is lost in a turmoil of contradictory feelings. But again, we are only able to take a glimpse at the characters’ struggles through random observations by Yunjae, which makes the novel even more gripping.

I was not a big fan of the end to be honest, this is why I only gave it 4 stars. This book has been recommended by several members of BTS, and is a huge best-seller in Korea.

Level: This book was on the easy side, but there were some passages that can feel more challenging (especially towards the end). Given that this book has been translated into English, I think that it is great for Korean learners, as you can read it in parallel if needed.

English translation: Almond by Won-Pyung Sohn, translated by Joosun Lee, published by Harper Collins.

보건교사 안은영 by 정세랑

Eunyeong An, the school nurse at M school, can see the lingering desires of people and dead people which show themselves as jellies. Some of them can have a bad influence on the school and the students. Together with Inpyo Hong, teacher of classical Chinese, she will protect the school from evil jellies.

This novel has been adapted into drama by Netflix, and I really recommend to watch the drama and read the book together. I find that the drama brings a lot to the atmosphere and actress Yumi Jung really gives life to Eunyeong.

In the novel, each chapter is devoted to a different case or a different character. I really love that the drama mixed different cases together and makes several things happen at the same time. For example, in the drama, the story of the child on the playground and the story of Eunyeong’s former classmate are intertwined with the story of the mite eater. I found this very good, as they all relate to Eunyeong’s helplessness when she realises that she cannot help everyone. In the book, these are three completely different stories in different chapters.

Overall, this book was both weird and fun, there is a lot of humour in the book that could not be transported in the drama. But to be honest, the story was way too fantastic to me, and I enjoyed the more realistic episodes more than the more fantastic ones. I would certainly have DNFed it, if it weren’t for the drama. Great book, just not for me.

As for the level, this book was really difficult to read for me, mainly because it is a work of fantasy with things that do not make much sense, and it is harder to fill the blanks. I find that realistic fiction is easier to read for language learners, because you can guess a lot of the things you don’t understand. Again, watching the Netflix drama really helps, so I recommend doing both!

네 번의 노크 by 케이시

A murder has taken place on the third floor of a residential building, a floor that is dedicated to women. Six appartements, six doors, six women, all suspects in this case.

I found the setting of this mystery to be very exciting. The structure of the book is interesting too: it is mainly composed by the testimonies of each suspect to the police, and we get to read their statements.

At first, there were interesting leads, I was wondering who was lying, trying to look for clues in what each woman said. There were also indications that footsteps and time would play a part, and this raised my expectations for a good whodunnit. Unfortunately, I felt that all these clues did not really lead anywhere and the mystery kind of sorted itself naturally, and even the final twist did not manage to satisfy the avid reader of mysteries that I am.

This being said, this was still an enjoyable read and it was very good for a debut novel. I will certainly check out this author’s next mysteries!

Level: Overall, this novel is rather easy to read, but I would not recommend it if you are not already used to reading in Korean, because the book is a succession of long monologues. It is interesting for the story, but the structure of the book makes it also quite monotone to read. I also find that dialogues are easier to read for language learners, and they are quasi non-existant in this book. Moreover, one character (the one living at 301) is significantly more difficult to understand than the others.

An audiobook version is available on 윌라 (welaaa). I personally read the book and listened to the audiobook at the same time, and it helps a lot to the comprehension. If you can afford the subscription, Welaaa is a great way to have access to audiobooks and classes on various topics in Korean.

일의 기쁨과 슬픔 by 장류진 

This is a collection of short stories, where we see people in all kinds of situations where they have to deal with colleagues, work, or unexpected events.

The characters we see in these stories all hold onto their set of values, which often lead them to misinterpret a situation or misjudge others. Some stories are funny, some sad, but they all feel very relatable and engaging. This was an entertaining read that also made me think a lot. It is one of my favourite books read in Korean so far, and I highly recommend it.

Level: All the stories are easy to read, I believe that among books for adults, this one belongs to the easiest you could find. The fact that these are short stories makes it also easier to read for language learners as you don’t have to commit to a 300 pages-long novel. The stories deal with everyday life and work situations.

One of the short stories has been adapted into a drama special by KBS. I believe you can watch it one the KBS site, but it might depend on your country.