해를 품은 달 and reading in Korean

Jung Eun-gwol, the author of 해를 품은 달 and 성균관 유생들의 나날, sure knows how to craft a story that pierces one’s heart.  I don’t think I ever fully recovered from Sungkyunkwan Scandal, which is why I think I was so fervently anticipating The Moon That Embraces the Sun ages before they even started casting.  I was dying to get my hands on the book, too, which Jeannie so kindly sent for me from Korea!

The drama deviates quite a bit from the novel, but both of them have their own charm so I will forgive this otherwise heinous crime this one time.  Heh.  The drama also had an incredible cast of child actors for the first six episodes; and currently, Kim Soohyun is stealing the screen, blazing as the young, bitter king whose heart longs for the girl he loved as a boy.

The drama is garnering shockingly high ratings week after week; whether that’s to be attributed to the pure genius that was Tree With Deep Roots or the Joseon crack that was The Princess’s Man or perhaps the popularity of the novel itself, it’s hard to tell.  For me, however, the magic is more in the novel than the drama.

The novel takes place during the Joseon dynasty, so there is quite a bit of figurative language and historical words that I’m not familiar with (and also a lot of words that I just don’t know in general; unsurprising, considering the fact that I’m attempting to read a historical novel barely two years into learning the language).  The incredible thing is I can understand most of the plot despite my extremely limited vocabulary and, while I’m at it, I’m gaining such an appreciation for the beauty of “old” Korean.

Personally, I find contemporary Korean more poetic than English and speech during the Joseon era, especially royal speech, even more so.  Unsurprisingly, this novel is filled with absolutely gorgeous language.  Metaphors and motifs galore and, my personal favorite, parallel structure, which is just as pleasing to read in Korean as English.  I plowed my way through book 1 and I’m halfway through book 2, but at this point, I’m reading more for the language than the plot.  In terms of the plot itself, well, I will suppress my inner literature bitch.  It’s little more than Joseon flavored cotton candy fluff but it’s addicting and definitely worth reading for the language.

Mom and I were talking a few days ago about reading in different languages.  My mom’s trilingual in English, Marathi, and Tamil.  She grew up reading novels with ease in both  English and Tamil.  I asked her if she ever had a weird out-of-body feeling when she was reading in either language because I experienced that several times while reading 해를 품은 달.  I’d be sucked into the story for several minutes and then I’d stop and marvel at the fact that this story is written entirely in a language that was unknown to me for 20+ years.  And I was understanding it.  Not only was I understanding it, I was having a visceral reaction to it.  For the first time since I started learning Korean, I was doing more than just comprehending.  I cried during the sad scenes, blushed during the romantic scenes, bit my nails when things were getting intense.  I always thought that no matter how long I study Korean, I would never be able to shake off that element of “foreignness.”  But the fact that I’m getting to the point where I can react to a story written in Korean the same as I do when it’s in English is yet another indication that I can be comfortable enough in a “foreign” language to the extent that it doesn’t feel “foreign” any more.  Amazing!

Mom said she never felt like that when she switched between reading in different languages, probably because she grew up learning all three at the same time.  Sometimes  I wish I had grown up knowing multiple languages just as well as I know English, but then I guess I would miss out on experiencing a transition like this!


  1. I’ve been hearing about this drama everywhere!
    That’s a really nice experience you’ve described. I hope I can feel it one day *-*
    It’s those moments that make language-learning feel really worthwhile.


  2. Cool! You are really awesome that you can read Korean novels now. Makes me wonder what have I been doing this past year… I also love reading novels and can’t wait to be able to read one in Korean too. :)


    1. Nahhhh, I “read” them but there’s still loads I don’t understand. I don’t think you should wait until you’re at a certain level to start reading novels. Just dive in. When I’m reading for fun, I just skip all the stuff I don’t understand. When I’m studying, of course, those are the passages I focus on!


      1. I actually have ‘My Name Is Kim Sam Soon’ novel since I was just a beginner. I used to use it for reading practice. But I would love to be able to read it comfortably soon. I pick it up once in a while and I gauge my progress by checking until where will my Korean bring me. I’ve progressed very slowly though. From a sentence, to a paragraph, then 2 paragraphs over the years. Lately, and finally, I’ve managed to understand a page, then things started getting difficult again. So I’ll study some more.
        By the way, I also heard a lot about 해를 품은 달 but since the semester is about to end, I am restraining myself from watching any addicting Korean dramas. I stayed up all night for week for 뿌리 깊은 나무 last year. XD


  3. I don’t know if I should really comment on this one since we always talk you already know what I’m going to say XD What I love about reading novels is that we discover a lot of things aside from new grammar points and vocabulary! We gain knowledge on Korean history, culture and politics! I wasn’t really a big fan of sageuks before but I did watch a lot of them.


  4. archana.. maybe if you have extra time maybe you can give us some recaps or hint what gonna happen in drama im dying to know the ending or what gonna happen with wol and hwon..huhuh


    1. I’m afraid you will have to be patient and watch the drama because I’m really not at the level where I can provide quick and accurate summaries of the novel. It takes me a lot of time and effort to read just one chapter.


  5. Hi, may I ask one question, did that book (jung eun gwol’s novel) is sell in other country such as, south east asia? Thank you.


  6. hye, may I ask you something bout this book? err, can I find this book in Malaysia? in english translation maybe? where I can get those books?


  7. I watched the drama and loved it actually ^_^ Though of course it had the usual staple of a K-dramas: a love triangle… Really every one of them has at least one love triangle!

    I’ll actually give a go at reading the book now that I’ve read your post ^_^


  8. I bought this novel when I was in Korea! ^^ I need to read it… after I finish Bu Bu Jing Xin 보보경심. xD It just that it takes so long… reading becomes a chore as I don’t know most of the words ㅜㅜ . But it’ll be worth it haha xD.


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