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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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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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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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Foreign Students Visit Korea amid Rising Global Interest in Korean Literature

Korean literature attracted international attention with Han Kang’s ‘The Vegetarian’ winning the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. And to add to the heightened interest, the Korea Foundation (KF), which operates under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is hosting what it calls a ‘Korean Literary Workshop for International Doctoral Program Students’.

A total of 23 students of Korean literature from 11 universities around the world, including the University of Tokyo, the University of London, and the University of Minnesota, will participate in the workshop.

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Hidden promoters of Korean literature

VegetarianBehind the scenes supporters helped novelist Han Kang reach beyond a Korean audience. Without them, she would not have clinched the coveted Man Booker International Prize.

Joseph Lee, president of Korean Literary (KL) Management who liaised between the author and international publishers, is one of them.  Lee’s Seoul-based literary agency exports Korean literature to the world. Many Korean novels, including Shin Kyung-sook’s million-seller “Please Look After Mom” and Kim Young-ha’s “I Have the Right to Destroy Myself,” have passed through Lee’s hands before spreading abroad.  “I always read books, looking for the right one. I check new books from authors who work with my agency or sometimes purchase other books that interest me. That is the first step of everything,” Lee said at a recent interview with The Korea Times.

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Good translation key to globalization of Korean literature

VegetarianGood translation holds the key to globalizing Korean literature and quality translation comes from translators of diverse backgrounds, according to experts.

Novelist Han Kang winning the Man Booker International Prize last month with “The Vegetarian” highlighted the importance of translation. Experts say that British translator Deborah Smith equally deserves credit for the honor.   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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Korean literature explores possibilities in world markets

Over the past several decades, Korean literature was, for the most part, unknown to casual Western readers with many of the translated works available being restricted to the turbulent era surrounding the 1950-53 Korean War and its legacy.

But things have changed in recent years. Korean literature has risen in stature on the global scene with its unique yet universal themes.

“These days, foreign literary agents pore over our PR materials on Korean authors and their books with some asking for information on specific works before we introduce them,” Joseph Lee, president of the KL Management, the Korean literary agency behind the overseas buzz caused by Korean writer Han Kang’s “Vegetarian,” told Yonhap News Agency.

The situation is a stark contrast to just 10 years ago when he had to dial every agent that might be interested in publishing books by Korean writers. To his disappointment, the answer was “No, we’re not” in many cases.

In this photo released by the Associated Press on May 17, 2016, Han Kang, winner of the 2016 Man Booker International prize for fiction, poses for a photo after winning the award for her book "The Vegetarian" after the award ceremony in London on May 16. (Yonhap)

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Foreign translators discuss challenges of Korean literature

Translating Korean literature, while challenging, has opened up a whole new, joyful world, said foreign translators during a panel discussion in Seoul Monday.

In the closed-session organized by the Literature Translation Institute of Korea, translators from England, Germany, India, France, Mexico, and Uzbekistan, shared their experiences of and thoughts on translating Korean books into their respective languages. All translators either finished or are attending a translation program run by the institute. Continue reading