By TOBY LICHTIG
North Korea sells. If the books table at the TLS is anything to go by, we have a seemingly insatiable appetite for publications about the Hermit Kingdom and the antics of its eccentrically murderous ruling dynasty. But away from the escapee memoirs, famine histories and book-length speculations about the robustness, politically and gastrointestinally, of the youthful Dear Leader, it is the South that has been gaining headway in the more refined literary arts.
Over the past few years there has been a glut of fiction in translation arriving from South Korea, much of it critically acclaimed and some of it even commercially successful. This is partly thanks to the indefatigable Dalkey Archive, whose Library of Korean Literature, produced in collaboration with the Literature Translation Institute of Korea, will – when complete – amount to an impressive twenty-five novels and collections of short stories. The latest batch arrived on my desk last month: it includes a collection about the effects of capitalist materiality on the family unit (no doubt Mr Kim would have something to say about that); a mythical love story which explores desire and sexuality “in all its ugliness”; and, yes, a defector tale about an escapee from a country “that might be North Korea”.