2008 Literature: Return of Korean Novels

By Chung Ah-young
Staff Reporter

This year, Korean literature has resurged, surpassing the popularity of the self-help and practical books, which usually sell well in economic slump.

According to Kyobo Bookstore, many novels dealing with family values and warm-hearted emotions garnered popularity.

"The contents of self-help books have become similar and overdone over the years. Instead, novels with human stories seem to be helping readers deal with their worries during these times", an official of the bookstore said.

Prolific productions by veteran and new Korean authors mark the return of novels and the resurrection of Korean literature despite sorrow over the deaths of two great authors.

Deaths of Great Authors

This year, the Korean literature scene lost the two master authors. Veteran novelist Park Kyung-ni, renowned for her masterpiece "Land" ("Toji, the Land"), died from lung cancer at the age of 82 on May 5.

Park, one of the most revered authors in Korea, was diagnosed with lung cancer last July but refused to be treated. Since then, she stayed at the cultural center in Wonju, Gangwon Province, where her home was also located.

She was put to rest in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province after a five-day funeral. After her death, various literature awards and centers were established to pay her tribute.

Two months later, another master novelist, Lee Cheong-joon, known for "Seopyeonje" and "Your Heaven", also died from lung cancer on July 31. He was 68. Throughout his four decade-long career, Lee wrote more than 100 short stories and 13 novels.

Novelists Communicate via Internet

Renowned novelists released their works online after veteran author Park Bum-shin became the first to take the plunge by posting his latest novel, "Cholatse", on Naver, the nation's top portal site, last year.

It was the first attempt of its kind for a veteran novelist to release literary work with a serious theme online as a tool to efficiently communicate with readers about his or her work.

Later, Hwang Seok-young put his new serial novel, "Gaebapbaragibyeol", "Venus" in Korean, on the same portal.

Rising author Jeong I-hyeon, famous for her "My Sweet Seoul", had posting her new novel, "You Don't Know", on the Kyobo Bookstore Web site from Aug. 1.

Novelist Gong Ji-young recently released her new serial novel "Silenced" on Daum, one of the nation's major portals.

Return of Korean Novels

Amid the crisis in the publishing industry, new Korean novels gained popularity from readers.

In the first half of the year, Gong Ji-young's "My Sweet Home" and "I Will Support You Whatever Kind of Life You Live", continued to be on top of the best-seller list, while "Haak Haak" by Lee Oi-soo was also one of the top sellers.

In the second half of the year, "Gaebapbaragibyeol" by Hwang Seok-young and "Take Care of My Mom" by Shin Kyung-sook received fierce response from readers.

Aside from established authors, rising writers' works such as Jeong I-hyeon's "My Sweet Seoul" and Park Hyeon-wook's "My Wife Got Married" and Lee Jeong-myeong's "Painter of the Wind" were popular among young readers as the TV dramas and films motivated their novels.

Such emerging authors as Paik Young-ok, Kwon Yeo-seon and Kim Ryeo-ryeong published "Styles", "I Believe Love" and "Wandeuki" respectively.

Also, Tablo, frontman of Epik High, the pop group, released a collection of short stories, "Pieces of You", immediately creating a trend of becoming a celebrity author.

Kyobo Bookstore said that this year was "the year of women authors" in the novel section. Among others, Gong's "I Will Support You Whatever Kind of Life You Live" and "My Sweet Home" reached the top five list. "My Sweet Seoul" by Jeong I-hyeon ranked third. In the second half of the year, Shin Kyung-sook caught up with the other female authors with her new novel "Take Care of My Mom".

But unlike previous years, just a small number of Japanese novels were published. Only one, Hideo Okuda's "Swing in the Air", was included in the general top 100 best seller list. Last year, four Japanese novels were on the list.

In the first half of the year, renowned foreign authors such as Guillaume Musso and Khaled Hosseini released their new works.

Forecasting 2009

Kyobo Bookstore predicts that photo essays, which began wide publication this year, will be a trend next year because of their concise sentences and eye-catching photos for quick-tempered, modern readers.

Given people's interest in travel and leisure, travel photo essays are expected to become hugely popular and affect other fields.

Also, a one-source-multi-use trend in making best-selling books into dramas and films is likely to continue for the time being.

"Publishers are asked to provide more steady sellers next year but they will likely rely on local authors rather than translation versions of foreign books because of soaring foreign exchange rates", the official said.