Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Korean Catholic Literature

The Catholic Church in South Korea is undergoing a phenomenal period of growth and so it is perhaps no surprise that it has produced a good number of Catholic poets and novelists too. The good news for us in the west is that an increasing number of their works are being translated too.

Kyung-Sook Shin's Please Look After Mother, for example, can be bought from Aid to the Church in Need. I will review this Korean bestseller and BBC Book at Bedtime properly in another post and so will restrict myself to saying now that it's worth reading for the unusual but powerful second-person narrative technique adopted by the author. I've tried out the opening as an A Level unseen prose passage and it works very well.

However, there are plenty of other novels out there too. Park Wan-suh, for example, has written a number of bestselling novels and stories which are available in translation (and can sometimes be downloaded in Kindle format). She's even received the honour of a Google Doodle:

For a tribute from Seoul's Cardinal Archbishop click here.

There are even more poems available, thanks largely to the efforts of the rather remarkable Brother Anthony of Taize who was born in England, became a monk in Taize and then a Professor of English in Korea, where he eventually took Korean citizenship. A list of his translations is available here and a particularly interesting article on Korean Buddhist and Christian poetry is available here.

Time and again we discover that not only are Catholics writing fiction and poetry in Korea but that they are selling an incredible number of their books. Sr Claudia Lee Hae-in, for example, is a Benedictine nun who has apparently sold almost two million copies of her books of poetry. You can read more about her here and here and here.

From time to time we hear about the decline of Catholic literature. Perhaps we are just looking in the wrong places.


  1. Roy, it's been more than a year. How's that review of Kyung-Sook Shin's Please Look After Mother coming along?

  2. Oops, thanks for the reminder. I'll get it up by the end of the week.