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7 Great Novels by Korean American Authors

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • January 13, 2021

The History

Happy Korean American Day, celebrating the contributions of Korean Americans to this country. Since the first Korean immigrants arrived in Hawaii on this day in 1903, Korean Americans have enriched this country. From Olympic medalists to military leaders to government officials to artists, their endeavors have influenced our culture and society.

Author Younghill Kang fled Korea in the 1920s due to political persecution under Japanese rule. After immigrating to the US to study, he wrote several acclaimed books, including his fictionalized memoir, East Goes West. Kang is known as the father of Korean-American literature, giving birth to a rich and talented field. Here we feature seven terrific novels published by Korean-American authors in recent years.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

A young woman's difficult decision to leave her home in Korea in the early 1900s sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through generations. Richly told and profoundly moving, this is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan's finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, the cast of complex characters struggle to survive against the indifferent arc of history.

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

Based on a real-life incident that contributed to the L.A. Riots, this novel depicts a complicated world where the distinctions between victims and perpetrators are blurred. Described by Viet Thanh Nguyen as a "suspense-filled page-turner about murder, repentance, and forgiveness," it is the story of two families forced to face down their history while navigating the tumult of a city on the brink of more violence.

Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Frank barely speaks any Korean. He was born and raised in Southern California. Even so, his parents still expect him to end up with a nice Korean girl—which is a problem, since Frank is finally dating the girl of his dreams. Brit, who is funny and nerdy just like him. Brit, who makes him laugh like no one else. Brit...who is white. Torn between two cultures, Frank asks the question: Who am I? This charming YA coming-of-age novel left us swooning.

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Steeped in suspense, this thriller uncovers the way that prejudice can be cloaked by good intentions. A page-turning murder mystery drawing on the author's own experiences as a Korean-American, former trial lawyer, and mother, this novel carefully pieces together the tense atmosphere of a courtroom drama, the challenges of parenting a child with special needs, and the complexities of immigrant family life.

The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim

It's 1948 and a young couple travels with their young daughter from South Korea to the US in search of new opportunities. Wary of the challenges ahead, they make the difficult decision to leave their infant daughter behind with extended family, hoping to be reunited soon. But war breaks out in Korea, and suddenly there's no end in sight to the separation. It's the riveting story of two sisters torn apart by war and growing up in two very different worlds.

Shelter by Jung Yun

Kyung Cho has always struggled to be the good Korean son, even though he feels emotionally cut off from his parents, who provided well but showed him no affection. Although he is struggling with financial pressure, he can't bring himself to ask them for help. But when an act of violence leaves his parents unable to live on their own, the dynamic suddenly changes, and Kyung is compelled to take them in. Tensions quickly mount as old feelings of guilt and anger rise to the surface.

Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear by Matthew Salesses

Matt Kim is pretty sure he's disappearing. He's always tired. People on the street bump into him as if they can't see him there. His girlfriend, Yumi, is less convinced. But when she runs into a woman who looks exactly like her and is dating someone who looks exactly like Matt, she starts to wonder. This haunting, yet hilarious, novel takes the concept of the "invisible Asian" to a whole new level, playing with ideas of identity and disappearance.

Let us know if you have any favorite books by Korean-American authors. And be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for daily book recommendations, literary tidbits, and more.

Read more by Ashly Moore Sheldon

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