Are South Korean Readers Rediscovering Their Literature?

In News by Dennis Abrams

As a growing number of readers in South Korea reportedly are rediscovering their authors’ literature, industry players feeling upbeat about this year’s book sales potential.
Commuters in Seoul, South Korea. Image - iStockphoto: Sean_Gao

Commuters in Seoul, South Korea. Image – iStockphoto: Sean_Gao

By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

Han Kang’s Man Booker International Win a Plus
Writing for the Yonhap News Agency, Woo Jae-Yeon and Im Mi-na propose that “Korean literature is making a comeback.”

Particularly after some allegations of plagiarism last year rocked a publishing industry already coping with sales slumps, a growing number of readers reportedly are turning back to Korean literature with greater attention.

Han Kang. Image: Man Booker International Prize

Han Kang. Image: Man Booker International Prize

Contributing to the growth in sales, of course, was South Korean author Han Kang’s win of the Man Booker International Prize for her novel The Vegetarian, which renewed pride and interest in home-grown literature.

While some thought the spike in book sales following the award would fade, The Vegetarian is still topping bestseller lists at local bookstores, with more than 500,000 copies sold to date, according to Im and Woo. And other books have been making their marks, as well.

One such title is Jeong Yu-jeong’s The Origin of Species. Since its publication on May 16, the book has sold 150,000 copies. Jeong, one of South Korea’s most popular thriller writers, has two previous bestsellers –A Night of Seven Years and 28. Together, they’ve sold 630,000 copies.

An official from EunHaeng NaMu Publishing tells Yonhap:

“We were worried [that] the sales of Jeong’s book would slump since The Vegetarian seemed to steal all the attention, but to our surprise, people who visited bookstores to buy it obviously shopped for other books and pushed the sales of Jeong’s book up even further.”

And Jo Jung-rae, a well-known novelist with a what’s described as “a solid fan base among middle-aged men,” has hit the bestseller lists as well. His new book, A Glass Flower is Also a Flower, has sold out its first printing of 100,000 in one month. Another 100,000 copies are reported to be on their way to bookstores. An official from the book’s publisher, Hainaim, tells Woo and Im, “The book’s universal theme, education, coupled with the vacation season, boosted sales.”

Woo and Im write that Jo is a “veteran writer,” known for his epic of novels of history such as Taebaek Mountain Range, Arirang, and Han River. His The Great Jungle, which tells the story of “the rising cultural and economic power of China,” has sold 1.9 million copies since it came out in 2013. The article reports that The Vegetarian became the first Korean novel to sell more than 500,000 copies since The Great Jungle came out three years ago.

Yonhap’s report tells us, “Although there’s no official book sales data that covers the whole market, data released by the biggest bookstore, Kyobo, shows that sales grew 42.3 percent from January to July 17, compared with the same period in 2012. The figure had been on a steady decline since 2012, but turned on an upward trend this year.

Industry insiders tell Im and Woo that “the boom is likely to continue into the second half of the year,” especially with new books from popular writers including Seong Seok-je and Baek Min-seok being released.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.