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Korean novels struggle after the Sewol ferry disaster

Posted September. 18, 2014 04:48,   


New Korean fictions have disappeared from the bestseller list.

According to Kyobo Book Center on Wednesday, only two Korean novels were on the top 10 bestseller list based on book sales for the first eight months of this year. They are Jo Jung-rae’s “The Great Jungle,” which published not this year but in July last year, and Kim Ae-ran’s “My Brilliant Life,” which was published in 2011 and gaining attraction again after being made into a movie recently.

Korean novels have almost failed this year given that “Dream Flower,” written by Japanese writer Keigo Higashino, was published in May and ranked 10th.

This year’s weak performance of Korean fictions is partly due to the Sewol ferry disaster on April 16. Eun Hee-kyung released “The Only One Snowflake that Looks Very Much like All Other Snowflakes” in March to celebrate her 20th anniversary as a writer. The novel became the second bestseller after the release and was expected to follow “The Great Jungle.” After the ferry incident, however, it was not in the top 20 list. Lee Oi-soo’s “Complete Metamorphosis” released at the end of March was in the top 10 list only for seven weeks.

Lee Jin-sook, editor of Hainaim, a book publisher, said, “A face-to-face marketing such as a meeting with readers is important for Korean writers, but we had to cancel all events because of the ferry disaster. Some of Lee Oi-soo’s fans don’t even know that the author released a new novel.”

The impact of the ferry incident is expected to last long. Munhakdongne, a book publisher, is preparing for the release of bestselling authors’ books including Kim Ae-ran’s “The Science of Tears” and Park Min-gyu’s “The Mass Game Generation.” However, it has yet to decide when to release the books after the delay caused by the ferry incident. Multiple sources from the book publishing community said, “Sensitive writers cannot focus on their work in the wake of the ferry disaster.”

After the incident, Han Kang’s “A Boy Is Coming” was released in June and Sung Seok-jae’s “An Invisible Man” in July. Although around 20,000 copies and 40,000 copies were sold, respectively, they could not vitalize the book market. Some say that readers were distracted by global writers’ books such as Paulo Coelho’s “Adultry” (90,000 copies), Milan Kundera’s “The Celebration of Insignificance (40,000 copies),” and Haruki Murakami’s “Men without Women (140,000 copes).”

Others say that Korean fictions are less interesting and competitive. Genre fictions such as books that appeared on television programs or movies and page turners are a little better. A source from Kyobo Book Center said, “Readers who are accustomed to videos look for genre fictions, but Korean fictions are particularly weak in the area.”