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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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Two Israelis make it to Booker list

The selected novels spans the epic and the everyday, says judging chair.

Two Israeli authors are among six writers shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker International Prize, organisers announced on Thursday. Three European writers and one from Argentina are also vying for the prize, awarded to a work of fiction translated into English and published in Britain.

One of the novelists, Amos Oz, makes the shortlist for the second time.

Fellow Israeli writer David Grossman is another of the finalists, while Argentina’s Samanta Schweblin is the only other non-European picked by the five judges.

France’s Mathias Enard, Denmark’s Dorthe Nors and Norwegian Roy Jacobsen complete the shortlist.

The finalists are competing for a £50,000 prize, which is divided equally between the author and their translator. Read more

Source: The Hindu


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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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Jaipur blows out candles on decade of promoting Asian writing

By Victoria Burrows

Without the storytelling traditions of his native Indonesia, writer Eka Kurniawan says he’d “just be a boring writer who literally followed what was being said by language teachers at school.” Instead, last year he became the first Indonesian writer to be nominated for a Man Booker International Prize.

Kurniawan will be on stage speaking about his work at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival (jaipurliteraturefestival.org), which runs from January 19 to 23 in Rajasthan, India, and is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The inaugural Jaipur Literature Festival hosted 18 writers and drew a crowd of about 100 attendees, including some who “appeared to be tourists who had simply got lost,” according to the author William Dalrymple, who is the event’s co-director. Read more

Source: Asia 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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Amitav Ghosh shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize

Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh

Penguin Random House said it is delighted to share that Indian author Amitav Ghosh has been shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize.

Worth £60,000, the prize is awarded every two years to a living author who has published fiction either originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in the English language. The award is for a body of work, rather than a single book and the winner announced on 19th May.

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Man Booker International prize assembles grand names for advisory ‘e-council’

Many past winners and judges of the main Booker prize have signed up to advise on its international sister prize: The Guardian

Full details of the 80-strong group of Man Booker prize-winning novelists and former prize judges – including double winner Hilary Mantel, and AS Byatt, a former judge and winner of the prize – will offer informal advice to the Man Booker International prize judges.

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