2011 in Korean Translated Literature: The Year in Review

2011 was an active year in Korean literature.

• First, as the year began, Korea lost one of its great authors, and one well represented in translation, Park Wan-so. An international literary treasure as well a national one, Park’s literary career  spanned thirty years, and she wrote more than 20 novels and 100 short stories, a fair proportion of which were translated into English. Perhaps her most famous work was Who Ate Up All the Shinga, a semi-autobiographical novel of growing up in and after the Korean civil war.

• The year continued on a not-so great note as KTLIT noted that the Asian Man Literary prize did not include any Korean candidates, and that in fact, most prizes for translation seemed unaware of Korean works.

• Kim Young-ha, one of the most successful Korean writers in English translation, weighed in on the death of 0f aspiring screenwriter Choi Go-eun (a friend of Kim’s), and ended up quitting Twitter and blogging after a series of  online debates with literary critic Cho Young-il. Fortunately, by the end of this year he had at least returned to podcasting, and the news that a translation of his “Black Flower by Charles La Shure should be published next year is good news to his fans.

• Even better news came in the first quarter of the year when Shin Kyung-sook’s Please Look After Mom, took the English speaking world by storm, hitting the New York Times Top 10 List, making Amazon’s 10 Best Books of the Year list, being published in the United States and Europe, and selling more copies than any other Korean translation ever had. Even better, as Shin’s work rose to the top of the bestseller list, it demonstrably dragged other Korean translations with it, as their popularity rose markedly on Amazon.

• In publication, special mention should be made of the excellent feminist collection of modern fiction by female Korean authors, Questioning Minds. The book was technically published on the last day of 2010, but its sales took place this year.

• Renowned author Yi Mun-yol (and translator Heinz Fenkl) also scored a triumph when An Anonymous Island was published in the New Yorker Magazine.

• LTI Korea, celebrated its 10th anniversary with a conference intended to help lay the groundwork for another successful decade.

• The year continued with a bit of silliness as some members of the GNP called for investigation of author Gong Ji-young for her book The Crucible (later made into a movie and released in the US). The GNP might well dislike Gong, whose politics are extreeeemely left, as her dressing down of protestors celebrating the death of Kim Jong-il demonstrated (Tip of the Hat to “Hidden Connections” for turning this up).

• The year ended with splendid news, as LTI Korea and the Dalkey Archive announced that they were partnering to translate 25 Korean books, which will be released (I think) in 2013.

All in all, a year with more good in it than bad, and it makes me look forward to what the current year will reveal!




5 thoughts on “2011 in Korean Translated Literature: The Year in Review

  1. Charles,

    I’d imagine she does, but then I would if I could access it here and it wasn’t problematical to talk about while in-country.

    Politics here in Korea is super-partisan, though as I look back across the Pacific I see it is no better there, and for far less important historical reasons….

  2. Politics in the USA and Canada is super broken.

    The USA is worse than Canada in this regard.

    Is Korean literature from China, Russia, etc. also problematic?

  3. Charles,

    I don’t think it is, but I haven’t looked for modern translations of Chinese and Russian. My guess is that since they are no longer officially communist, since they are not at war, and since SK damn well knows they better be friends, the literature is ok.

    But it’s a guess..

  4. Thanks:

    BTW; I saw this book review from your closest neighbour in its main newspaper:

    신념의 맹세로 드높은 기적소리 (서평양기관차대 《붉은기》6023호를 타고)

    The book is dreadful, I understand.

    It is bisarre, though, that in a modern democracy there are proscribed books.

    ROK should lead by example and permit intellectual freedom.

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