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(News Focus) Korean readers rekindle their passion for Korean literature

All News 14:03 July 21, 2016

By Woo Jae-yeon, Im Mi-na

SEOUL, July 21 (Yonhap) -- Korean literature is making a comeback.

More and more readers are turning their attention to Korean literature after a plagiarism allegation last year against Shin Kyung-sook, one of the country's most respected authors, shook the book industry already suffering from sagging sales and left a bitter taste in the mouths of many.

Han Kang's winning of the prestigious Man Booker International Prize in May shone a much-awaited ray of light and played a significant role in renewing readers' interest in Korean books.

Right after the award, some people suspected a spike in book sales and heightened attention would soon fade away. That, however, proved to be wrong.

"The Vegetarian" continues to top local bookstores' best-seller lists. Data shows more than 500,000 copies have been sold so far. Moreover, a slew of new interesting books has lately arrived on the bookshelves, triggering more visits to bookstores by readers.

Closely following "The Vegetarian" is Jeong Yu-jeong's "The Origin of Species," published on May 16.

Since the publication, 150,000 copies of "The Origin of Species" has sold and the book has ranked within the top five bestsellers. One of the most popular thriller authors, Jeong wrote two previous bestsellers -- "A Night of Seven Years" and "28" -- which sold 430,000 copies and 200,000 copies, respectively.

"We were worried if the sales of Jeong's book would slump since 'The Vegetarian' seemed to steal all the attention, but to our surprise, people who visited bookstores to buy it obviously shopped for other books and pushed the sales of Jeong's book up even further," said an official from EunHaengNaMu Publishing Co.

Prominent novelist Jo Jung-rae, who has a solid fan base among middle-aged men, joined the boom as his new book "A Grass Flower is Also a Flower" came out this month.

The first edition, 100,000 copies in total, has sold out and the second edition of the same number is being printed.

An official from the publishing company Hainaim Inc. said, "The book's universal theme, education, coupled with the vacation season, boosted sales."

Jo is a veteran writer who dedicated his whole life to writing epic history novels, including "Taebaek Mountain Range," "Arirang" and "Han River." "The Great Jungle," a story about the rising cultural and economic power of China, has sold a whopping 1.9 million copies since it was published in 2013.

Rekindled attention to Korean books naturally led to a rise in book sales.

"The Vegetarian" became the first Korean novel to sell more than 500,000 copies since the release of "The Great Jungle" three years ago.

Previous bestsellers include Shin Kyung-sook's "Please Look After Mom" in 2008, which sold more than 2 million copies, and Gong Ji-young's "The Crucible," published in 2009 and made into a major motion picture, which sold 830,000 copies.

Although there is no official book sales data that covers the whole market, data released by the biggest bookstore Kyobo shows that sales grew 42.3 percent from January to July 17, compared with the same period in 2012. The figure had been on the steady decline since 2012 but turned on an upward trend this year.

Industry insiders believe the boom is likely to continue into the second half, as new books by popular writers, including Seong Seok-je and Baek Min-seok, are expected to be out.

Notable writers include female novelist Kim Byeol-a, whose "Misil," an epic novel released in 2005 about the life of a woman named Misil in the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C. - A.D. 935), was a huge hit. She will publish a full-length novel later this year.


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