Seo Jeong-wook; Tium: 204 pp., 22,000 won
Seo Jeong-wook, the art consultant of Seo Jeong-wook Gallery, has published a book on stories of famous paintings and artists.
“The masterpieces beloved for hundreds of years have stories behind them, full of passion, innovation and self-confidence of the artists that painted them. I want people to feel the artworks, not simply understand them,” Seo says in the book.
Some 100 paintings by 70 artists and their stories are featured in detail.
Instead of difficult art trends or complicated philosophy, Seo narrates the origins of what’s within the frame.
Through “Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne in a Large Hat,” the author explains the life and love of Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani. It is a portrait of a woman with almond-shaped eyes and an elongated neck in his signature style.
Hebuterne was a muse and model of Modigliani, who changed the artist’s life.
When the painter died of tuberculosis at the age of 36, eight-month pregnant Hebuterne resorted to jumping to her death a day after Modigliani’s passing.
― KWON MEE-YOO
Lee Soon-woo; Haneuljae: 288 pp., 15,000 won
Looking at Seoul’s central business district today, it is hard to imagine what buildings stood there before. Hanok, or traditional wooden houses of yore, most people would assume.
That is only partially true, and this new book by a researcher of national heritage gives light to the modern brick buildings that occupied the space in the early 20th century.
They were the various hotels that hosted foreign dignitaries and guests.
The most famous among them was the one managed by the German-born Russian Antoinette Sontag, who became the staple of contemporary high society. Korea in this period was, of course, under Japanese occupation, and the pictures from this time only add to the general enjoyment.
The author dedicates a chapter to the fascinating Sontag as well, who supposedly introduced, among other things, coffee to the Korean royal family and subsequently the whole peninsula. (Lee says this is just a myth, however.)
Reading through the book, one is painfully aware of how small the pool of resources was for the researcher. There are far too few new works on this era.
It is thanks to the few honorable souls like Lee that helps modern Korean history to stay in people’s minds.
The Soul Support Book
Deb Koffman: Translated by Kang Soon-i; Basic Books: 112 pp., 12,000 won
Just reading the title and looking at the cover, one may jump to the conclusion that this book is one of those ubiquitous self-help books. But the book, small enough to carry in any bag, is a subtle joy to read.
Shifting through the pages with its bright cartoons and succinct messages is akin to chewing on multi-colored Starburst candy on a lazy summer afternoon.
The book is the first by the artist/writer, who after years of working at an advertising firm, moved in 1998 to a small neighborhood in New England. Her messages are simple but have a strange way of resonating in the reader’s hearts. One section has two pages of multi-colored boxes that the author defines by different life experiences: “this is the place that scares me”; “this is the place that I danced in”; and “this is the place my heart opened” to name a few.
Then at the bottom, the author writes to “appreciate your experience.” There is also a section about rooms, moments and what nourishes your soul. It’s one definitely worth looking into.
You Can Also Do Business
Byeon Ja-seob; Hangang Publishing; 183 pp.; 12,000 won
This tycoon’s entrepreneur story is a revealing tale about the Korean business environment.
The author started Monarisa, one of the largest toilet paper producers in the country, as an office worker, and in this book he recounts the eventful or tumultuous journey since then.
His management tips are intriguing, especially because they are so Korea-specific. The part about alcohol-driven business meetings is extremely entertaining.
His personal struggles, especially the battle against third-stage cancer, are moving.
The work could have been even more insightful, however, if Byeon dedicated more time to those anecdotes and lessons. Furthermore, he could have spoken more about the tough conditions that small- and medium-sized enterprises have to deal with in this country, which continues to be the one of the hottest issues in the news. Who better to speak about it than someone who’s made it over the hurdles?
Instead, he fills up a large chunk of the book with a strange detour through personal musings, opinions about historical figures (like the late president Park Chung-hee) and friends ― and ends up losing focus.