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How the bestseller ‘The Vegetarian,’ translated from Han Kang’s original, caused an uproar in South Korea

Before publishing his famous Chinese poetry translation “Cathay” in 1915, Ezra Pound apparently had no knowledge of Chinese at all. Instead, he worked from second-hand notes by another translator, boldly imposing his Imagist vision on classical Chinese poetry. Not surprisingly, he made quite a few errors in the process. And yet today, “Cathay” has become a deeply admired modernist classic; “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” appears in many poetry anthologies. The work is hardly considered a translation at all. A classics professor recently told me that he feels the same way about Pound’s “re-creations” of the elegies by the Latin poet Sextus Propertius: “I don’t even the think of the changes as errors,” he said. The translator’s version has become canonized.

Would Pound’s free interpretations have been just as praised had he translated novels? Or if he published his works a century later?

The question came to mind as I pondered the recent controversy in South Korea over Deborah Smith’s brilliant but flawed translation of Han Kang’s novel “The Vegetarian.” Originally published in 2007, Han’s work received critical acclaim but didn’t enjoy a particularly wide readership. Many South Korean readers initially found the novel to be bizarre: a dark, surreal tale of a woman who refuses to eat meat and descends into madness.

All that changed when “The Vegetarian” won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. The award landed the book on American and British bestseller lists as media attention focused on Smith, a then-28-year-old British graduate student, making much of the fact that the translator had started to learn Korean only six years earlier.

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Move over K-Pop, the next Korean culture wave could be K-Lit – if enough great books can be translated well

Korean novelist Han Kang attracted global attention when her novel The Vegetarian won the Man Booker International Prize for fiction last year.

“The novel was published years ago in Korean, but it did not gain international attention before it was translated into English. It is an example of the significance of translation in literature,” says Sohn Hae-il, newly elected president of PEN International Korean Centre.

“Korean literature will become popular worldwide just like K-pop someday. As Korean culture gains popularity across the globe, more and more people are interested in learning the Korean language to understand the lyrics of K-pop and the words of Korean television dramas,” Sohn says. Read more

Source: South China Morning Post


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What first short stories smuggled out of North Korea say about life in the hermit state, and their challenges for a translator

It’s not reportage but fiction, written not by a defector but by a writer still living and working in North Korea – the necessarily pseudonymous Bandi. The Accusation is a first for publishing, and also a first for me. As a translator I’ve specialised in fiction, and other books I’ve worked on have been political in their aims and impact – most notably Han Kang’s Human Acts, which focuses on the 1980 Gwangju massacre. But none have had such an obviously polemical intent as The Accusation.

Whenever we translate from a language or literature not yet widely represented in English, the danger is that what was intended as art will be reduced to anthropology. With a country as little known as North Korea, the sociological reading will be impossible to ignore, though the fact of The Accusation’s historicity can at least encourage a broader view: the seven stories that make up the collection are dated from 1989 to 1993, in the last years of Kim Il-sung’s rule. Read more

Source: South China Morning Post


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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 Author of ‘The Vegetarian’ Takes on Korea’s Violent Past

By Nami Mun

In Korean, “Hello” (ahnyoung hasehyo) literally translates to “Are you at peace?” This question-greeting is delivered as a statement, of course, but a certain poignancy can’t be ignored — especially if one considers the violent history of the Korean Peninsula. This slice of land, with China and Japan on either side and Russia in the far north, has suffered invasions, wars, colonialism, occupation and military dictatorships. And South Korea itself, known (without irony) as the Land of the Morning Calm, has as its upstairs neighbor a spoiled tyrant with trapezoidal hair who boasts too often of his small cache of nuclear weapons. Much Korean blood has been shed, and sometimes the bloodletting has been inflicted by the peninsula’s own people.

In early 1980, after the assassination of the authoritarian South Korean president Park Chung-hee (father to current president Park Geun-hye, now under impeachment), the nation — which had been living under limited martial law — seemed destined for change. The economy was declining. Demonstrations were on the rise. Students, professors, artists and laborers — ordinary unarmed citizens — protested and demanded a fair and free election and the lifting of martial law. Park’s protégé Gen. Chun Doo-hwan saw an opportunity to maneuver himself into the Blue House. Chun seized power and, using the North Korea card, declared full martial law throughout the nation. He shut down universities, banned political activity and arrested student leaders as well as political rivals. Order was established in most of the country, but not in Gwangju. Read more

Source: The New York Times


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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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In the animal body: Review of The Vegetarian by Han Kang

by Chandra Ganguly

VegetarianI was sitting in an open air café, out under a midday sun, as I read Han Kang’s Booker prize-winning book, The Vegetarian. I was cold. That is what the book does to you. The story turns the choicelessness in the life of a woman into a motif that chills and frightens the reader. The story centres around the decision of the protagonist, Yeong-hye’s decision to become a vegetarian. Her husband had married her because as he says in the opening lines of the book that he, “always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way.” The book then proceeds to turn that statement on its head.

Following a series of violent dreams, Yeong-hye decides to stop eating any form of meat. That begins a violent story of her fight for freedom and the societal suppressions and consequences of a woman’s right to choose and own her own body. The book is rife with instances of human cruelty, man to animals, man to man. “The lives of the animals I ate have all lodged there. Blood and flesh, all those butchered bodies are scattered in every nook and cranny, and though the physical remnants were excreted, their lives still stick stubbornly to my insides.” (p.56) These animals that were slaughtered in her childhood that she ate haunt her in the book. They and the dog that was tortured before being killed and eaten because it had bitten her, “… the dog is frothing at the mouth. Blood drips from its throat, which is being choked with the rope. Constantly groaning through its damaged throat, the dog is dragged along the ground…. As blood and froth mix together, I stand stiffly upright and stare at those glittering eyes.” (p.49) Continue reading


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Booker triumph ushers in new era for South Korean writers

Han KangSouth Korean writer Han Kang’s Booker Prize marks a major victory for a decade-long effort to drag one of Asia’s oldest but, until recently, least-known literary traditions into the global market.

Literary merits aside, the success of Han’s novel “The Vegetarian” was aided by a number of factors that have coincided with South Korea’s emergence as an increasingly prominent player on the global cultural stage.

An institute dedicated to translating new works, a fresh breed of writers with a more international outlook and a new generation of talented, dedicated translators have all played their part — and, publishing insiders say, will all share in Han’s triumph.

“It’s going to have an enormous impact,” Seoul-based independent literary agent Joseph Lee said.

“For the writers, it will provide motivation and confidence that our literature has potential in the overseas market.

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‘The Vegetarian’ Han Kang Wins Man Booker International Prize

South Korean author Han Kang won the Man Booker International Prize on Monday, sharing the 50,000 pounds ($72,000, 63,500 euros) award with her translator — who had only taught herself Korean three years before.

Han Kang, 45, an author and creative writing teacher who is already successful in South Korea, is likely to enjoy a spike in international sales following the win for “The Vegetarian”.

“I’m so honoured” she told AFP. “The work features a protagonist who wants to become a plant, and to leave the human race to save herself from the dark side of human nature. Continue reading