A City of Han | Book Review | Short Stories Written By Expats
When you think about Korean literature, what is the first thing you think off? You probably think about ‘The Vegetarian’ or ‘Pachinko’, which are probably some of the most famous Korean books out there.
- Featuring stories from: Eliot Olesen, Ron Bandun, Ted Snyder, David Smith, Matthew Grolemund and Gord Sellar
- Edited by: Sollee Bae
- Written in: English
- Published on: April 16th, 2020
- Buy: on Amazon or on the official website (with Korean bank card only)
A City of Han is contains a selection of short stories written by expats living (or who previously lived) in South Korea. The 6 short stories featured in this book each show South Korea from a different perspective. Some of the stories are set in modern day Seoul, while others feature South Korea during the Japanese Occupation or other time periods. Each story is about 20 pages long.
All the short stories were hand picked and collected by Sollee Bae whom I met a couple of years back. She runs the fiction writers group in Seoul and is a passionate fiction writer.
A City of Han
1. Umchina By Eliot Olesen
“He had the diploma, but lacked the grades. He had the pedigree, but lacked the connections. Most of all, he lacked the suave nature of a Hyundai man, a Samsung man, an LG man–they were all the same, and everyone wanted to be one.”
The story is about a Min who has been job hunting for 2 years but struggles landing a job at any major company like LG or Samsung. He’s reasonably well off, drives a fancy BMW and studied at Cornell University in the US. In the story you follow Min and learn about his relationship with his mom and how he deals with not being able to get a job.
Of all the short stories in this book, Umchina is probably my favourite as it is so relatable. The Korean job market is super competitive, especially for jobs at major companies like LG, Hyundai or Samsung. Even with a degree from a major American university or with being highly proficient in English, it is hard.
2. Kyungsung Loop By Ron Bandun
“But Chosun was no longer the dreamy little backwater colony with a bright future I remembered. War trains chugged through, carrying cargo to the frontlines in China and supplies back to the homeland, impoverishing Chosun for the good of the Empire.”
This story set in 1930 is about a Japanese guy with a big interest in Korean art. One day, on his way to work, he meets a young Korean guy. They bond immediately and he helps his new Korean friend, Ushi-san, get into university. During the story you learn more about the main character and his fondness of Chosun. Until everything changes with the start of the 2nd World War.
3. Mosquito Hunter of Korea By Ted Snyder
“Many people thing of the DMZ as a desolate wasteland, filled with minefields and tank traps. In fact, looking out over it, even from a slight elevation, visitors see that it is dense with dark green expanses of maples, poplars, fir, rolling hills that open up to lowlands with rice fields, flooded and worked by farmers in the area.”
Bill Lazaer, a biologist specialised in malaria mosquitoes, worked for the American Military and was stationed at Camp Columbia by the DMZ. He was in charge of analysing the mosquitoes in the area and test them for malaria. One day he reaches the camp and all his mosquito traps have been taken down.
I’ve always been really intrigued by the DMZ and everything that goes on in that area. You might think, mosquitoes are a boring subject to read about, but nothing is less true. The story is full of tension and you have no clue where this story might take you.
4. Long Road By David Smith
“Jun-ho got to know his friend’s apartment well. The designer furniture; the spotless walls that wouldn’t allow the faintest hint of black mold in the humid days of summer; the antiseptic glare of the pristine bathroom. During their nights together, they never spoke about the gap between them. Ju-ho wouldn’t talk about his day of strenuous labor, and Jin-yeop said nothing of his own career.”
Two friends, who met during their military service, come from completely different backgrounds and belong to different classes in society. Ju-ho who works as a delivery guy, constantly feels less valuable than his friend who works at a major company. This will eventually be the reason for the end of their friendship.
5. Playing The Blues in Seoul By Matthew Grolemund
“It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Koreans, who would never strike up a conversation with a stranger in their won language, want to chat with me in English. And it always starts the same way. “Where are you from?” they ask.”
Absolutely love this story and any foreigner that has lived in South Korea can probably relate to this . Maybe I’m a bit biased as I live in the area where this story is set but there are so many things in this story that I recognise or that I can relate with.
6. Sojourn By Gord Sellar
“After Soon-jin’s pencil box crashed back down to her desk, it took a moment for her to realize what had happened. She was sitting alone in the classroom, and Trevor Teacher was standing in the doorway, his eyes wide. He glanced over his shoulder, and Soo-jin glanced down at her pencil box–now lying open, a couple of her pencils having spilled out–before she looked at him again.”
Of all the stories, this is probably my least favourite, but that has more to do with the genre than with the story. I’ve never really been into sci-fi stories. The story kinda reminds me of the X-Men movies and when reading this short story I’m imagining similar looking characters.
A City of Han includes a nice range of short stories about South Korea. If you live in South Korea or are interested in South Korea, you’ll definitely like this selection of stories. They are light and easy to read.
I’ve read the whole book in the span of a week and really enjoyed it. I even reread my favourite stories a couple of times. I’ll definitely keep this book and even take it back with me once I leave Korea.