When French delegate Victor Collin de Plancy first meets Korean court dancer Yi Jin in the last years of the Joseon Dynasty, he is spellbound by her grace and beauty. When he greets her with “Bonjour,” he’s shocked when she responds in his language. Instinctively, he snaps a photo with a hidden camera and captures the dark, beautiful eyes that will haunt him for the rest of his life.

Those same mysterious eyes forge friendships and trust between Koreans and the French in the late Joseon Dynasty, which ended in 1910 with the annexation of Korea by Japan. Based on a true story, “The Court Dancer” is finally getting a paperback treatment on Dec. 15. Written by Man Asian Literary Prize winner Kyung-sook Shin, the novel chronicles the opening of Korea to the West through the tragic life of an orphan who becomes the most renowned court dancer and a close confidant to the last Joseon queen. Young Jin grows up without a home, and wants nothing more than to serve the queen who took her in. But fearing that Jin’s beauty will steal the affections of the king, the queen sends her away with the smitten new French legate, Victor.

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