Category Archives: Korean literature

Where Poetry heals an abandoned child: The Magical Language of Others by EJ Koh

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Magical Language of Others by award-winning poet, EJ Koh, is a Memoir of an abandoned Korean child — not abandoned in the sense of thrown out but abandoned by parents who put their career before child rearing.

An article in Asian Review says, “It isn’t uncommon for immigrants to return to their countries of birth for better employment opportunities, but in this case Koh and her brother would be staying behind.

In her new memoir, The Magical Language of Others, Koh shows the damage that ensues when leaving one’s children during their teenage years for no reason but selfishness.”

Eun ji Koh and her brother were left behind in California to struggle it out on their own by parents who returned to Seoul for nearly a decade in quest of better prospects.

Koh did come out of it with the help of poetry, and her writing. In an interview in Wildness, she said: “When I was a girl, I had terrible nightmares every night. My mother told me there was a curse upon the women of our family (for no reason I know). We could afford neither peace nor ignorance of our dreaming lives. At twelve or so, I figured out that if I wrote down the dream each morning, it wouldn’t haunt me the rest of the day.” And that is how started her journey as an award winning poet and writer. Read more

The Best Reads of 2019: Books Writers Loved this Year

Compiled by Mitali Chakravarty

 

And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.

Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns,1788

 

It is that time of the year again when we bid adieu to the old and party to welcome the new. And this year it is not just an old year but the old decade that ends – this new year we start the third decade of the second millennia. With much goodwill, as the poet Burns says, we asked some writers who have featured on our pages to contribute two of their favourite reads from this year and they obliged… A huge thanks to all these fantastic writers who share what their favourite books have been this year.

51otYV5ZqEL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_We start with Suzanne Kamata, an award winning writer from Japan, who has been a part of our magazine and the first Best Asian Short Stories in 2017. This is what Suzanne wrote: “One book which particularly impressed me was Under the Broken Sky, a novel-in-verse by Mariko Nagai, about a Japanese girl stranded in Soviet-occupied Manchuria. Although we often hear and read about the atrocities committed by the Japanese Army in Asia, we rarely hear the voices of the innocent bystanders, like children. Nagai manages to distill complicated and difficult events into crystalline free verse. Although this book was written with middle grade readers in mind, I would recommend it to adults as well.  Read more

How the Literature Museum in Korea will ‘reflect’ on Colonisation, Division,War…

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Korean scripts: Red-Hanja: Blue-Hangul

 

Korea is on the move to open up and assimilate its heritage.

It plans to open a museum for its literature by December 2023 in Seoul’s northwest district with a budget of 60 billion won($53.6 million).

“The need to build a proper museum for Korean literature has always been there, but it has not been realized for a long time,” said Yeom Mu-ung, a literary critic who was named head of the institution in a press conference. He added, “The National Museum of Korean Literature should reflect on the history of colonisation, division, war, industrialisation and democratisation.” 
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How the Politics of Invasions Affects Literature: The Case of Korea

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Japanese troops land in Korea, 16th century

“ In 1915, one of the fathers of modern Korean literature, Yi Kwang-su, laid out his modern manifesto. ‘We are a new people, without ancestors, without parents, that came from Heaven in the present.’ (Kim Hunggyu, 194.) This belief was amplified in 1930 by Ch’oe Caeso, who argued, ‘In terms of contemporary culture, our attitudes are dominated by those of Western culture, and not by those from the Choson period and before,'” wrote Charles Montgomery , who taught English, Literature, and Translation Department at Dongguk University, Seoul.

Choson, also known as Choseon or Joseon,  was the dynasty that ruled Korea for the longest period — five hundred years — before the Japanese invasion in 1910. Though Japan had tried to invade Korea earlier in 1592 and 1597-98, their impact at that time was minimal.  

Was that Mountain Really ThereHowever, in the twentieth century, the Japanese invasion lasted longer —  for four decades — till Japan was defeated in 1945 at the end of the Second World War by the dropping of an atom bomb. Subsequently Korea was split along the 38th parallell, one part being allied to the American and the other to Soviet Union. The pain of this partition was projected  beautifully by Park Wan Suh in her classic novel, Was The Mountain Really There? . Read more

Seoul Book Fair completes 25 years

The Seoul International Book Fair, started in 1954, claims to be the biggest event of its kind in Korea with participation of forty countries and 430 publishers, including Hungary, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, USA, Egypt and Indonesia. The guest of honor this year, at its twenty-fifth anniversary, was from Hungary.  

Hungarian Ambassador to Korea Mozes Csoma said in his opening speech: “Back in 1892, the Austro-Hungarian Empire already signed a treaty of amity with the Joseon Dynasty. Hungarian scholar Barathosi Balogh Benedek traveled the Korean Peninsula in the early 20th century, and he hoped Hungarians would get to know more about Korea and Korean culture. Now I have a similar hope with his. I hope more Koreans get to know Hungarian culture and its literature.” Read more

South Korean writer Hang Kan Joins Artistes in Norway for a futuristic Journey

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South Korean writer, Hang Kan ,who was the winner of the Man International Booker prize in 2016 for her novel The Vegetarian, has joined the ranks of literary greats who are giving their writing for the Future Library Project in Norway started by artist Katie Paterson in 2014.

Katie Paterson, an award winning Scottish artist known to play with and find inspiration in nature using her imagination to create unique artworks based on natural phenomenons like glaciers,stars and the universe itself, planted one thousand spruce trees in the Nordmarka forest, just outside Oslo in Norway. The paper from these woods will be used in 2114 to print the books of the literary greats who are participating in the project, which include literary giants like Margaret Atwood and multiple award winning novelist David Mitchell and whose ranks Hang Sen joined last month. Read more

Short Stories: The Abominable Library of Black Storm by Minsoo Kang

 

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

“I have always loved books,” the head librarian confessed, “and my love of books led me to the love of scholarship. After reading so many books, studying so hard throughout my youth, it was a dream come true when I was appointed as a librarian here. What better place for me to have ended up than in the greatest library in the world, among so many books, so many treasures of scholarship. So I read and studied, until no one could match my erudition, not even the librarians who were older and had been here longer. So it was inevitable that I ultimately became the head librarian.

“But then, in the midpoint of my life, I was overcome by a terrible loneliness. I had spent so much time among books that I had lost touch with everyone I had known, including my family. I knew that both of my parents had died at some point, but I was too busy with my studies to attend their funerals. I know that they loved me, and I vaguely remembered loving them, but all that seemed like a story I read in book a long time ago.

“One day, while I was perusing a newly acquired work in my study, I heard some voices outside the window. When I looked out, I saw one of the younger librarians speaking with a girl from the town who worked as a cook at the library. They were holding hands, smiling at each other, and saying things that made them blush with happiness. The way the sun was illuminating them, they looked so fresh and beautiful that it caused a terrific pain in my heart. Perhaps it was a vision of what I missed out in my life, or perhaps it was the awakening of a feeling that lay dormant in my heart. Read more

Making case for ‘The Vegetarian,’ literary translation

(From Korea Times. Link to the complete article given below)

The past couple of years have been eventful for late-bloomer Han Kang, the author of the award-winning book “The Vegetarian.”

Han Kang, 47, has become a star writer after she and Deborah Smith, the translator of “The Vegetarian,” were honored with the 2016 International Man Booker Prize.

The book instantly became an international sensation and shot up on the bestseller list.
At home, the once obscure writer among general readers was lifted to a heroine who helped her country end several decades of drought in international literary recognition.

Some media outlets depicted Han Kang’s accomplishment as something akin to winning the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Rosy prospects for the success of Korean literature overseas had peaked for a while.

Such a fuss, however, ran short.

“The Vegetarian” was back in the spotlight in June last year. This time the reason is something scathing for the writer and the British translator as well.

Some experts raised questions about the accuracy of the English translation of the book by pointing out “errors, embellishments and omissions.” They said Smith added parts that didn’t exist in the work in Korean or sometimes removed parts that were in the original text.

Read more at the Korea Times link here

Writing Matters: In conversation with Hannah Kim

By Mitali Chakravarty

Was that Mountain Really there? by Park Wan-Suh, an award winning and well-known Korean novelist, has recently been translated by Hannah Kim and published by Kitaab. The novel depicts the trauma of partition faced by civilians in a war that reft the country in two, less than a decade after India was sliced into multiple segments. While Indians suffered in the name of religion, Was that Mountain Really There? portrays the suffering caused by a war created by the clash of communist and capitalist ideologies.

Park Wan-Suh was separated from her mother and brother by the border etched by the Korean War (1950-53) and found herself in the South while her family was in the North. Korean critic Kim Byeong-ik states that her writing is ‘the only record of how people survived in Seoul during the Korean War;’ however, her book is equally relevant in the current context of the ravages of war and refugee influx, a worldwide concern to date.

According to Theodore Hughes of Columbia University, ‘Park Wan-Suh is important for the ways in which her writing is at once popular (nearly all her works are best-sellers) and canonical. She is widely discussed in Korean academia and she has become the subject of dissertations. While this is also the case for many male writers, Park Wan-Suh may have combined the two levels more successfully than any other novelist.’

More than half a dozen of her novels have been translated into English, the latest being Was the Mountain Really There? Translating a book of this calibre is undoubtedly a daunting task and one that Hannah Kim performs very well. This translation highlights both the uniqueness of Korean life and culture and the universality of human sufferings and interactions that transcends borders of all kinds.

Hannah Kim is a translator and writer at Arirang TV. She has translated works on a variety of topics including literature, politics, music, visual arts, history and economics. She currently works in conjunction with the Department of Anthropology, Seoul National University. She combines a passion for music along with her passion for words and performs as a classically trained soprano in concerts in Southern California. In this interview, she highlights the challenges of translating and talks of Park Wan-Suh’s contributions to literature and the importance of words that can ‘inform, connect, and change the world’.

Hannah Kim

Mitali: The book is very personal – autobiographical in its historical sweep and    emotional proximity. How did you, as the translator, negotiate this emotional core? Did it involve research?

Hannah: Translating this novel definitely involved research but not so much for its emotional core. I had to study the events of the Korean War, the military tactics, and some period terms. Studying those technical aspects was not difficult. It was the emotional delivery of the text that was challenging. It was important for me as a translator to use the English language to conjure up the same or similar emotional reactions as those who had read the book in Korean. However, there were certainly cultural and linguistic barriers I tried to minimize, as there were words and expressions that could not directly be translated. So trying to get as close to the emotional core of the original language in English was definitely challenging.

Mitali: Park Wan-Suh was one of the most remarkable women writers of her times. Can you tell us more about her life and works? What made you choose her and this particular book of hers for translation?

Hannah: She was and still is one of the most beloved and celebrated writers in Korea. What was so remarkable about her was how prolific she was given that she had made her debut as a writer in her 40s. She never received formal training in writing — she had attended only one semester at Seoul National University before dropping out at the outbreak of the Korean War.

I chose Was the Mountain Really There? because I liked her writing style. Her writing is unembellished, frank, piercing, and vulnerable all at the same time. Also, having grown up in the U.S., I was always interested in learning more about Korean history. My father was in middle school when the war broke out and he told us stories of how his family survived when my siblings and I were young. South Korea was destroyed and reduced to rubble when the armistice was signed and the war was suspended in 1953. The miraculous economic development of South Korea since the end of the war was dubbed as the Miracle on the Han River. I wanted to trace its history and see how the war was experienced and narrated by a civilian, not by a second-source historian.

Mitali: Park Wan-Suh lived through the Japanese occupation and the Korean War. Her first hand experiences are found in her autobiographical novel Who Ate Up All The Shinga, translated in 2009. In her foreword to the sequel, Was The Mountain Really There? she says she ‘wasn’t able to form the pattern (she) truly wanted’. What could have been the pattern, the sense of relentless change or of man taking over and destroying a natural way of life? Do you think the book has been able to convey this ‘pattern’ quite well despite how she felt about it as its writer?

Read more

Country in Focus: Korea

Translators uplift Korean literature to global heights

(From The Korea Herald. Link to the complete article given below)

Every time Goksel Turkozu browsed through a bookstore in Turkey, he felt there could be more books of Korean literature in translation in his country where the passion for everything Korean runs high.

A devotee of Korean literature and professor at Erciyes University in the city of Kayseri, Cappadocia, Turkozu has adapted several well-known Korean novels into the Turkish language since he first set foot in Seoul in 1990 as a student.

His decadeslong dedication to spread Korea’s literary imagination to his homeland won him the Korea Translation Award given by the Literature Translation Institute of Korea on Wednesday, alongside other translators. The event was established in 1993 for the purpose of encouraging quality translation of Korean literature and its overseas promotion and publication. Since 2013, the award has been expanded to cover less widely spoken languages around the world.

“The popularity of Korean cultural wave Hallyu is still high in Turkey after more than 10 years,” Turkozu told The Korea Herald on Tuesday at a press conference in Seoul, one day ahead of the award ceremony recognizing the contributions of 150 translators and related professionals.

Read more at The Korea Herald link here

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