Historical Intrigue with a Side of Coffee: Russian Coffee by Kim Takhwan

  • onOctober 20, 2014
  • Vol.6 Winter 2009
  • byKo Mihye
Russian Coffee

Kim Takhwan’s Russian Coffee is an exhilarating historical tale of the plot to assassinate King Gojong, the 26th king of the Joseon dynasty, set at the end of the 19th century when coffee was first introduced to Korea.

Author of The Banggakbon Murder Case and Lishim, Kim Takhwan is known for his popular novels based on actual historical figures and events. After becoming acquainted with the story of the official interpreter who tried to assassinate King Gojong by slipping opium into his coffee in a late Joseon dynasty history book, Russian Coffee was born. But instead of reproducing the assassination conspiracy as it actually happened, Kim puts his imagination to work to create the livelier tale of Danya, the bold and charming heroine of the novel. Russian Coffee opens with Danya, the daughter of King Gojong’s official interpreter, heading for Russia alone at the age of 19 after her father’s untimely death, where she joins a gang of grifters.

There, Danya joins hands with a Korean man named Ivan, who is part of another gang, and decides to attack a parade of Korean envoys returning from Russia.

But instead she follows Ivan, who becomes King Gojong’s interpreter, to Korea, and finds herself in charge of King Gojong’s coffee service at the encouragement of a Russian envoy. In other words, she becomes Korea’s very first barista.

The novel instantly captures readers with its tale of conspiracy, the fate of Joseon hanging in the balance, and Danya’s compassion for the lonely king.

The plot intrigues with its twists and turns, but its strongest point is the character of Danya. In contrast to other Joseon dynasty female characters that are depicted as passive and submissive, Danya takes the initiative to forge her own path, leaving a strong impression on readers in the process. 

Author's Profile

Kim Takhwan made his literary debut in 1996 with the novel A Love Story of Twelve Whales. Historical novels are his forte, with several of them being adapted for television and cinema, including How Rueful to Be Forgotten (2002); I, Hwang Jini (2002); Death by Fiction (2003); Hyecho (2008); The Immortal Yi Sun-sin (2004); and Russian Coffee (2009). His most recent novel is The Magician from Joseon (2015).