This Korean Woman’s Top 5 Books In 2021 (And 3 Most Anticipated In 2022)

Written By Guest Contributor “This Korean Woman Reads” – Anna Yeon

“This Korean Woman Reads” is a book review series by Anna Yeon, who will be writing for the site reviewing books written by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) writers in Australia and from other parts of the world.

In 2021, I read 26 phenomenal BIPOC books  which, for me, is not that high a number (and 10 still on the shelf!).

I am disappointed I fell short of my annual target of reading 50 (about one a week) since there are so many BIPOC books to keep up with (and I am a stereotypical Asian overachiever, ha!); and because I started This Korean Woman Reads to demonstrate to the publishing industry how we – ‘the BIPOC’ – do read and therefore our stories should be taken more seriously as its consumers. 

But during this column’s second year, I read more deeply and gained a greater depth of satisfaction. For example, I picked up a book by Elif Shafak for the romantic rush of a love affair, the latest by Alice Pung for a reminder of bravery and the value of an honest life, the sequel by Viet Thahn Nguyen to intoxicate the senses without the need for a drop of cognac, and Barack Obama’s trilogy of memoirs to walk the corridors of power while ensconced on the couch.

My biggest discovery of BIPOC literature in 2021 was that there was a book for every mood. 

Because, for readers like me, this ‘genre’ offers a literary connection and dreaming that sustains me. Reading BIPOC literature is an experience of kinship that lives on long after the last page has turned.  

So, on the eve of 2022, I hope you find and read these books to sustain you as we carry ourselves into the new year.

  1. One Hundred Days by Alice Pung
Image via Goodreads

Headlines: Alice Pung’s first adult novel heroes a teenage single mother. This is a story of discovering the values of family, true friendship and the power of one’s own voice during her one hundred days of traditional confinement that her mother imposed for her pregnancy.

Mood: Celebrating the new and modern icon of the ‘Aussie battler ’ in literature 

Pair with: A copy of Oliver Twist and a cup of sweet tea

See full review here and Alice Pung’s State of the (Writing) Nation address here 

  1. The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Image via Amazon

Headlines: Reading Zakiya Dalila Harris made me feel (almost) woke. This book marries Black Lives Matter with women’s office politics and makes brilliant use of the thriller-suspense-horror genre in literature. 

Mood: Young and fierce amidst the doom and gloom of a pandemic

Pair with: Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee or Late Night on Netflix.

See full review here

  1. The Island of the Missing Trees by Elif Shafak
Image via Amazon

Headlines: A tale set in Cyprus and London that holds a melancholic entitlement to anxiety and sadness (for they too tell our stories) coupled with love that magically and truly  transcends, even beyond the species. 

Mood: Coronational. Elif Shafak is the reigning Queen of ‘Storyland’ in our lifetime (for reference to ‘Storyland’, see her TedTalk here).

Pair with: The Happy Fig Tavern’s menu on pages 104-105. Or whatever food that feeds your soul.

  1. DMZ Colony by Don Mee Choi
Image via Amazon

Headlines: Part art book, poetry collection, historiography and academic article, Don Mee Choi weaves together the themes of civil war, the pursuit of truth and reconciliation and freedom away from the toxicity of colonisation and ideology in contemporary Korea. Uniquely bilingual and creative but deeply familiar for anyone who comes from a divided and colonised homeland. 

Mood: Endowed with hindsight. May it be of guidance for friends outside the Korean peninsula.

Pair with: Minari, the film directed by Lee Isaac Chung

  1. The Prisoner by Hwang Sok-Yong (original published in 2017 and translated into English in 2021)
Image via Amazon

Headlines: A translated memoir of renowned Korean novelist Hwang Sok-yong which details his experiences as a political prisoner, this is a rare book available in English that bridges the parallel universe of creativity, capitalism and detention in dictatorship. 

Mood: Longing for the fullness of freedom that comes when a nation embraces its own emancipation from the past.

Pair with: Some media monitoring leading up to the 2022 South Korean Presidential election

In 2022 (and beyond) I will be reading:

Son of Sin by Omar Sakr

The debut novel of a Lebanese-Turkish Australian poet whose fiction piece ‘White Flu’ is in the anthology ‘After Australia’. 

See details here

Enclave by Claire G Coleman

The third novel by Noongar woman (from Western Australia) and writer of Terra Nullius. 

See details here

American Hagwon by Min Jin Lee

The final of the Korean-diaspora trilogy series (following Free Food for Millionaires and Pachinko ) by the renowned Korean-American writer. Publication date TBC.

See more about Min Jin Lee here

And of course, Asian-Australian Jessica Au’s Cold Enough for Snow featured here.

Happy reading and Happy New Year!

This Korean woman reads

You can follow Anna Yeon on Instagram by clicking on Annayeonwrites

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