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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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Home but Not Home: Four Generations of an Ethnic Korean Family in Japan

By 

PACHINKO
By Min Jin Lee
490 pp. Grand Central Publishing. $27.

Min Jin Lee’s stunning novel “Pachinko” — her second, after “Free Food for Millionaires” (2007) — announces its ambitions right from the opening sentence: “History has failed us, but no matter.”

“Pachinko” chronicles four generations of an ethnic Korean family, first in Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 20th century, then in Japan itself from the years before World War II to the late 1980s. The novel opens with an arranged marriage in Yeongdo, a fishing village at the southern tip of Korea. That union produces a daughter, Sunja, who falls in love at 16 with a prominent (and married) mobster. After Sunja becomes pregnant, a local pastor offers her a chance to escape by marrying him and immigrating together to his brother’s house in an ethnic Korean neighborhood in Osaka. Together, they embark into the fraught unknown. Read more

Source: NY Times


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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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Korea: First bookstore dedicated to science opens in Seoul

 

The 21st century might be the era when paper books are threatened with extinction, but the charm of flipping through pages of traditional books cannot be beaten. People still buy paper books and despite the prevalent online shopping experience, they even go to brick-and-mortar bookstores to browse the shelves.

A new bookstore filled with science and art books in Seoul’s hip Itaewon area diversifies a book lover’s experience.

A new bookstore filled with science and art books in Seoul’s hip Itaewon area diversifies a book lover’s experience.

Bookpark, on the third floor of Blue Square, which also houses two large theaters staging the Broadway hit “Kinky Boots,” has some 50,000 books solely on science, art and humanities, which is rare in Korea. Science books take up most of the shelves and the categorization of books on sale ranges from the basic “Understanding of Science” to the more detailed “Mathematics” and “Brain Science.” Read more


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A guide to the literature of Japan’s “comfort women”: Comfort station survivors tell their stories

As Japan & South Korea reach an agreement on the painful subject, some books to help the reader untangle the past: Salon

A guide to the literature of Japan's "comfort women": Comfort station survivors tell their stories
(Credit: Columbia University Press)

If you’ve followed any of the headlines emerging about the “comfort women” in the past weeks—or months, or years, or decades—you probably have some questions. Did the Japanese government really coerce thousands of women into military brothels while its empire colonized Asia? Were the so-called “comfort women” sexual slaves or indentured servants, consenting prostitutes, or none of the above? Was the Japanese government’s recent apology to South Korea, along with the pledge to pay $8.3 million to Korean survivors, a resolution, an insult or one step in a long process of reconciliation? Does the U.S. bear any responsibility? And why is a statue of a teenage girl still making so many people so mad?

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Chinese contemporary literature now a hit in South Korea

The extraordinary life of Xu Sanguan, a famous Chinese fictional character who sells his blood over the years to support his family, will soon be adapted in South Korea as a blood merchant.

South Korea’s popular actor Ha Jung-woo recently started directing and starring in a film adaptation of a renowned Chinese author Yu Hua’s 1995 novel “Xu Sanguan Mai Xue Ji” or” Chronicle of a Blood Merchant”. Continue reading


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Korea: Lost in translation?

Skilled translators with literary passion are essential for overseas success of Korean literature: The Korea Herald

Korea translationThe year 2011 was a great year for Korean literature abroad. Writer Shin Kyung-sook’s “Please Look After Mom,” originally published in Korean in 2009, achieved international acclaim, a first for a Korean literary work in translation.

The following year, Shin received the prestigious 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize, the first Korean and the first woman to receive the prize, which recognizes the best work of fiction by an Asian writer in English or translated into English.  Continue reading


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Korea’s LTI and Random House to help Korean literature go global

The Literature Translation Institute (LTI) and Random House Korea are launching an ambitious project aimed at helping Korean literature go global.

LTI president Kim Seong-kon said he and Eric Yang, Asia Pacific Publishers’ Association president and RH Korea CEO, have agreed to publish a collection of selected East Asian literary works as part of efforts to draw Western readers’ attention to Korean literature. Continue reading


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South Korea to send books North to mark World Book Capital

Among several plans to promote literature, South Korea hopes to send children’s books to the North as part of Incheon’s turn as UNESCO World Book Capital 2015: Publishing Perspectives

The unfolding South Korean ferry tragedy has cast a pall over Incheon’s plans to celebrate its status as UNESCO World Book Capital 2015.  The ferry was traveling from Incheon Port to the southern resort island of Jeju. At the London Book Fair, where Korea was Market Focus, many of the proposed schemes for the year-long accolade were on display. Continue reading


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Korean literature – books podcast

Smartphone cartoons, divided families and colourful fables – Claire Armitstead travels to Seoul and take the temperature of Korean literary culture: The Guardian

Hen

Hen

As Korea comes to London, with a star turn as the 2014 market focus at next month’s London Book Fair, the Books podcast travels right to the source to investigate the country and its literature.

We meet Yoon Tae-Ho, a star of the booming “manwha” industry, who explains the power of this cousin to Japan’s manga, and how graphic literature is made for the age of the smartphone. Hwang Sok-Yong tells us about his fictional project to exorcise the demons of a divided country, while novelist Yi Mun-Yol explains how his own family history has fed into his work, demonstrating that not all Korea’s defections have been from North to South.

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