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7 Books that take you inside North Korea

Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have reached a boiling point and sensational headlines (nuclear button! Sanctions! Assassination! War???) dominate the front page of every major newspaper. But aside from all the media attention, how much do we really know about the most mysterious country in the world? From a collection of short stories that provides a compelling voice to the lives of ordinary citizens governed by a brutal dictatorship to a memoir detailing a defector’s harrowing escape to freedom, these seven literary works offers the world a rare glimpse into the Orwellian dystopia of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea by Bandi, translated by Deborah Smith

The Accusation, a collection of short stories written by a living dissident, was hidden inside The Selected Works of Kim Il-sung and perilously smuggled out of North Korea. The seven stories paints an eye-opening portrait of life under the brutal regime from a woman who weeps mournfully at the death of Kim Il-sung’s death even though her husband is a political prisoner, suffering in a labor camp to a son who is denied a travel permit to visit his dying mother. The Accusation is a testament to the resilience of the North Korean people and a proof that goodness that still exists even in the most hostile environments.

How I Became North Korean by Krys Lee

Lee’s debut novel follows three disparate people as they leave behind their past and and become fugitives in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, a Chinese border town. Yongju is the son of elite North Koreans who were marked for a purge by the State. Separated from his family after the escape, he joins a gang of defectors living in a cave in the mountains, dreaming of making it to South Korea. Jangmi is a pregnant young woman who sells herself in matrimony to a Korean Chinese who pays to smuggle her out of the country. Danny is a closeted gay teenage Christian living in America. After his crush humiliates him in front of his high school, he runs away from home to Yanbian, where he was born to experience “being out of my time line, in China, a body returning to the past to escape the past.” Together, they struggle to survive in a hostile place encroached with danger in hopes of making it to a better life.

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Han Kang and the complexity of translation

How literal must a literary translation be? Nabokov, who was fluent in three languages and wrote in two of them, believed that “the clumsiest literal translation is a thousand times more useful than the prettiest paraphrase.” Borges, on the other hand, maintained that a translator should seek not to copy a text but to transform and enrich it. “Translation is a more advanced stage of civilization,” Borges insisted—or, depending on the translation you come across, “a more advanced stage of writing.” (He wrote the line in French, one of several languages he knew.)

In 2016, “The Vegetarian” became the first Korean-language novel to win the Man Booker International Prize, which was awarded to both its author, Han Kang, and its translator, Deborah Smith. In the English-speaking world, Smith, at the time a twenty-eight-year-old Ph.D. student who had begun learning Korean just six years earlier, was praised widely for her work. In the Korean media, however, the sense of national pride that attended Han’s win—not to mention the twentyfold spike in printed copies of the book, which was a fairly modest success upon its initial publication, in 2007—was soon overshadowed by charges of mistranslation. Though Han had read and approved the translation, Huffington Post Korea asserted that it was completely “off the mark.” Smith defended herself at the Seoul International Book Fair, saying, “I would only permit myself an infidelity for the sake of a greater fidelity.”

The controversy reached many American readers in September of last year, when the Los Angeles Times published a piece by Charse Yun, a Korean-American who has taught courses in translation in Seoul. (The article extended an argument that Yun had first made, in July, in the online magazine Korea Exposé.) “Smith amplifies Han’s spare, quiet style and embellishes it with adverbs, superlatives and other emphatic word choices that are nowhere in the original,” Yun writes. “This doesn’t just happen once or twice, but on virtually every other page.” It’s as though Raymond Carver had been made to sound like Charles Dickens, he adds. This isn’t, in Yun’s view, a matter merely of accuracy but also of cultural legibility. Korea has a rich and varied literary tradition—and a recent history that is intimately entangled with that of the West, particularly the U.S. But few works of Korean literature have had any success in the English-speaking world, and the country, despite its frequent presence in American headlines, does not register in the popular imagination the way that its larger neighbors China and Japan do. Han Kang seemed to fill that void—or begin to, at least. But if her success depended on mistranslation, how much had really got through?

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A Good Time for Translations

In Livemint, Sana Goyal explores whether the UK market has ‘space for Asian fiction in translation’.

Over the past couple of months, literary critics in the UK and the US have been unstinting in their praise for Ghachar Ghochar, Vivek Shanbhag’s Kannada novella, translated into English by Srinath Perur. “A Great Indian Novel Reaches American Shores” is how The New York Times publicized its review. In the UK, translator and publisher Deborah Smith, reviewing the book for The Guardian, wrote that “reading beyond our tiny borders shows us what we’ve been missing”. The question is, will Ghachar Ghochar’s international success pave the way for more literature translated from Indian languages—indeed Asian languages—to gain a sizeable readership outside the country?

The interest certainly exists. In the UK at least, the year 2016 was pertinent in terms of translated fiction. The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize joined forces with the Man Booker International (MBI) Prize, which changed in character and criteria into a prize exclusively for fiction in English translation—awarding £50,000 (around Rs40 lakh) for the winning title, to be shared equally between the author and the translator. South Korean writer Han Kang and her translator, Smith, bagged the inaugural MBI Prize for The Vegetarian(Portobello Books), a disturbing three-part novella delving into the subjects of madness, desire and the rejection of social conventions.

A year earlier, Smith had set up Tilted Axis Press (TAP), a not-for-profit focused on publishing Asian language literature, which started functioning in full swing in 2016. Research—commissioned by the MBI Prize, and conducted by Nielsen Book—revealed a near doubling in translated fiction sales figures in the UK between 2001 and 2016, from 1.3 million to 2.5 million copies.

One may credit this overall curiosity for, and consumption of, translated tales to the success of Scandinavian noir, or even the Italian literary sensation Elena Ferrante, but there’s something to be said for the UK pointing its compass towards languages and literature from the Asian continent—from Korean, Thai and Japanese to Bengali and Kannada.

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A Dissident Book Smuggled From North Korea Finds a Global Audience

By Choe Sang -Hun

It was a dog-eared manuscript, 743 pages bound in string. But for Do Hee-youn, an activist campaigning for human rights in North Korea, it was nothing less than stunning.

In 2013, Mr. Do got hold of what he believed was the first manuscript by a living dissident writer in North Korea that had been smuggled out. Written in meticulous longhand on the coarse brown manuscript paper used in North Korea, the book — a collection of seven short stories — was a fierce indictment of life in the totalitarian North. The author wrote of living “like a machine that talked, a yoked human.”

Thanks to Mr. Do’s efforts, the book, “The Accusation,” written under the pseudonym Bandi (“Firefly” in Korean), has found audiences around the world. It has been translated into 18 languages and published in 20 countries. Translated by Deborah Smith into English and published by Grove Press, “The Accusation: Forbidden Stories From Inside North Korea” hit the United States market this month. Read more

Source: The New York Times


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Found in Translation

By Gargi Gupta

There’s something fairytale-ish about Deborah Smith’s career thus far as a translator. She won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize along with South Korean novelist Han King for the latter’s The Vegetarian, her first book as a translator. It was also the first time that the £50,000 prize, the world’s highest for literary works in translation, was being awarded to the translator along with the author.

Smith, who was at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival last month, had begun the translation of King’s novel three years after she began learning Korean in 2010, the first bits done with the help of a dictionary app on her phone! Prior to this, Smith, who grew up in north England, had never even “met a Korean person, nor eaten Korean food”.

“It’s crazy,” agrees Smith, “to think that the biggest prize that you could get as a translator would come for the first book you’ve done.” In all modesty, Smith says the judges recognised the original work for its quality. “A wonderful book can be ruined by a bad translation. So I think they were trying to give equal weight to both.” Read more

Source: DNA India


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The largest free literary festival in the world, Jaipur Literature Festival releases its ninth list of speakers

By Craig Cranenburgh

The Jaipur Literature Festival is celebrating its 10th year anniversary this time around and is expected to be bigger and better. The festival has gone from a gem of an idea to the world’s largest free literary festival, hosting upto 1300 speakers over the past decade.

To celebrate this, the festival has announced 10 speakers’ names every week, for 10 weeks leading up to the festival – which is returning to its home at the Diggi Palace in Jaipur – between January 19-23. Here is the ninth list of speakers expected at the festival:

Author of novels such as The Rozabal Line, Chanakya’s Chant and The Krishna Key, Ashwin Sanghi is one of India’s bestselling thriller/conspiracy fiction writers who retells Indian mythology and history in a contemporary context. His latest novel, The Sialkot Saga, was released in April of 2016. Read more

Source: Mybigplunge.com


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Top translators awarded for promoting Korean literature overseas

The Literature Translation Institute of Korea has announced the winners of translation awards that recognize their role in the promotion of Korean literature worldwide.

The awards, which will be given out during a ceremony Thursday, include the LTI Korea Translation Awards, the LTI Award for Aspiring Translators and the LTI Korea Outstanding Service Awards.

The translation awards went to Deborah Smith, an English translator and joint winner of this year’s Man Booker International Prize, for her work on Han Kang’s novel “The Vegetarian”; Cho Kyung-hye, who translated Jeong Yu-jeong’s novel “Murder with a Twist: A Night of Seven Years” into German, titled, “Sieben Jahre Nacht”; Kim Soon-hee, who translated Lee Seung-woo’s work into Japanese, translated as “A Speculation on a Labyrinth”; and Katarzyna Rozanska who translated Yi Mun-yol’s “Our Twisted Hero” into Polish, titled “Nasz Skrzwiony Bohater.” Read more

Source: The Korea Herald 


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Deborah Smith on translation and Dhaka Lit Fest 2016

deborah

Deborah Smith is the winner of the 2016 International Man Booker Prize along with Hang Kang for the translation of Kang’s The Vegetarian. In 2015 Deborah completed a PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, on contemporary Korean literature, and founded Tilted Axis, a non-profit press focusing on contemporary and cutting-edge Asian fiction in translation. In an email, Arts & Letters requested her for an interview and here’s what she promptly sent back

What are you reading at the moment?

I just finished Papi by Rita Indiana, translated from the Dominican Spanish by Achy Obejas, and started Rituals of Restlessness by Yaghoub Yadali, translated from the Iranian by Sara Khalili.

What are you writing at the moment?

I’m working on a translation of a short story collection by Korean author Bae Suah. She and I just came back from a book tour to celebrate the launch of her novel A Greater Music, which was actually the first book I ever translated. The tour took us all across the US, and it was a wonderful opportunity for me to get to know the author – personally enjoyable and also useful professionally.

What inspired you to translate Korean literature?

Well, literary translation itself was the only potential career I could come up with; I’ve always loved literature, and tended to read more in translation than not, I think because the UK’s literary scene seemed alienatingly middle-class to someone from my background. Then I had to learn a language, and Korean seemed a good choice: there was barely anything available in English, yet I knew South Korea was a modern, developed country, presumably with a rich literary tradition. So it was part intellectual curiosity and part pragmatism – I needed it to be a language that I could get funding to study. Read more


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Dhaka Lit Festival to bring VS Naipul to Dhaka

VSNaipaul

Dhaka Lit Fest directors have announced that Nobel Laureate VS Naipaul will attend this year’s festival.

DLF, the country’s biggest international literary congregation, will be held in November at the grounds of Bangla Academy.

“We are absolutely delighted to announce Sir Vidia’s visit to Dhaka next month, which he has more than once told me he keenly desires. At a time when many writers are shying away from coming to Bangladesh, Sir Vidia will be opening this year’s edition of Dhaka Lit Fest, and we are extremely honoured and grateful for his support,” said Ahsan Akbar, one of the DLF directors.

This year the international line-up will also boast Man Booker International winner Deborah Smith and Pulitzer winner Vijay Seshadri. Read more